Banbridge’s Havelock Park has been confirmed as the new host venue for the women’s Hockey Series Finals to take place from June 8th to 16th this year, ending a six-month saga.
The competition is a vital stepping stone for Olympic qualification with a top two finish at the event – where Ireland are top seeds – guaranteeing a place in the direct playoffs later this year for Tokyo 2020.
The move finally gives the Irish women’s team clarity over the venue since Ireland was announced as the host of the event last October.UCD’s Belfield was the preferred venue but work on the ground only began last week. Abbotstown’s National Sports Campus was also mooted as an option with a pitch being laid in anticipation of it becoming the high performance base for Hockey Ireland.
Work was initially announced as starting straightaway back in December but the sod has yet to be turned there. As such, neither venue could guarantee it would be ready in time to host the event, let alone offer the extra home advantage for training sessions at the venue in the lead-up.
Other clubs in Dublin were assessed but none were deemed fit to host an event which requires extra infrastructure for television and crowd purposes.
Speaking about the switch, Hockey Ireland Performance Director Adam Grainger said: “While our preference was to hold the tournament in Dublin, it was not possible for the pitches to be completed within our time frame.
“We are confident both pitches will be worth the wait and will only add to the sport of hockey in the future. It is important we get the pitch correct at the National Sports Campus as it will be our base going forward.”
Banbridge, though, look to be a good bet to step in at this late stage. The club hosted the Euro Hockey League ROUND1 in 2016, the first and only time the elite competition has come to these shores, bringing the biggest event to Ireland since 2012’s Olympic qualifiers.
The Co Down club had been due to host the 2018 EY Champions Trophy last May but that, too, had to be relocated. In that case, the cancelation was out of their hands with the contractor going into administration before work was complete, leading to a hasty move to Three Rock Rovers.
Banbridge President Jo-Anne Lyttle said of the announcement: “We are delighted that Banbridge has been chosen as the venue for this FIH tournament in June.
“This will be the first time the Ireland Women’s team will have played in Ireland since winning their historic silver medal at the World Cup in London in 2018. To have them playing in Banbridge is a fantastic opportunity for the club and we are looking forward to welcoming all the teams to Havelock Park.
“The Irish Women’s team put hockey in Ireland to the fore last year and their momentous achievement will live long in our memories. To see these hockey heroes playing at Havelock Park in this important tournament will be a significant occasion not only for us as a club but also for the Borough of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon.
“The silver medal winners inspired hockey players across the island of Ireland and beyond with their success in the World Cup; to be able to showcase their talent in Banbridge will be great chance for anyone with a hockey or sporting interest to watch them live in action on home soil as they strive towards Olympic qualification.
“The club has experience of showcasing top events, having hosted the EYHL finals on a number of occasions and the EHL Round 1. We will now be working with Hockey Ireland to ensure that this event will be another great success for our sport.”