Dancer set for Belfast-base for Green Army rein

Ireland women’s hockey head coach Sean Dancer will be based in Belfast in a departure from the norm as he prepares to take over the reins from Graham Shaw, writes John Flack.

His overseas predecessors, dating back to the turn of the century, including Dutch woman Riet Kuper, South African Gene Muller and New Zealander Darren Smith all took up residence in Dublin after their appointment.

Sean Dancer in a coaching role with New Zealand

Dancer was formerly assistant coach to New Zealand women while Dubliner Shaw moved in the opposite direction to take charge of the Black Sticks after steering Ireland to an unprecedented silver medal finish at the World Cup last August.

The 44-year-old Australian will fly in tomorrow and will scarcely have time to recover from the jet-lag as he will get down to work at the weekend at a national squad session in Banbridge.

However, Dancer will take his time settling in to the hot seat and will not take over the main coaching role until after the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process, being hosted at the Co Down venue from June 8-16.

Instead, former Ards coach Gareth Grundie will continue as interim head coach for the duration of the FIH World Series event at Havelock Park while Dancer will lend a helping hand.

It’s a common sense move as the new man will obviously need time to get to know the Irish players although he did have a chance to see them in action at the World Cup last August in London when he was assistant to Kiwi coach Mark Hager.

Hager is now at the helm with Great Britain and England women, having taken over in January when Dancer stepped up to take over as New Zealand interim head coach, before Shaw’s appointment.

It has earlier been thought that Dancer would have been unable to play an active role in the Banbridge tournament due to visa issues but those have now been resolved.

His decision to live in Northern Ireland and not Dublin had nothing to do with work permits and dual Commonwealth citizenship but was a personal choice.

“Sean expressed a preference to base himself in Belfast as he has friends in the north and, in any event, he will be travelling around the country just as he would had he decided to live in Dublin,” explained Hockey Ireland High Performance Manager Adam Grainger.

Instead, Dancer’s first major tournament in the main coaching role will be at the European Championships, scheduled for Antwerp in August, by which time he will be fully up to speed with the talent at his disposal.

The Ireland squad for the Hockey Series will be announced at the end of the month, with 32 players in contention for the cut.

It’s understood the panel will be reduced after this weekend’s session in Banbridge.

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