Graham Shaw’s shock resignation as national coach has sent seismic waves through the Irish hockey community as the sport’s most successful coach moves to New Zealand to take up the top job there.
It comes just three months out from the start of the Olympic qualification process with the Irish women – hot on the heels of their 2018 World Cup silver medal – are hoping to land their place at the Games for the first time.The coach had previously said he would be mad to look elsewhere for a new role and was keen to capitalise on the silver medal.
His public utterances always suggested he was keen to continue the journey while also pushing the agenda for greater facilities.
For Hockey Ireland, it is another major frustration on the coaching front. Men’s coach Craig Fulton led Ireland to a first ever European Championship bronze medal in 2015 and an Olympic spot in 2016 but then left the job six months before the 2018 World Cup, citing the lack of supports available as a key issue.
In the wake of the women’s World Cup, it looked like those issues were being addressed with a new national training base at Abbotstown proposed and an international standard pitch set to be installed in UCD.
On both counts, though, work has yet to fully begin, meaning Hockey Ireland have still yet to finalise the venue for Hockey Series Finals – the next step in the Olympic qualifying route – which take place in June.
Speaking about the move, Shaw said: “It was an honour to coach my country and I am very grateful for the opportunity. We have had some incredible times together that I will never forget. I have worked with an outstanding staff over many years; your professionalism, honesty and friendship will stay with me forever.
“To the players, I would like to say a massive thank you. Your drive, dedication and loyalty has been relentless and it has been an absolute pleasure to lead the program over the past four years.
“I would like to wish the squad all the best for the future. I hope you continue on this journey, inspiring the next generation of hockey players in Ireland and I hope to see you in Tokyo”.
As for the New Zealand job, the position became vacant in a cloud of controversy with previous incumbent Mark Hager subject to scrutiny over the manner in which he dealt with the players.
A formal investigation only came to a conclusion last week with Hager moving on to coach GB in the meantime. As such, it will be a role that comes with much scrutiny.