Ireland men’s hockey captain Jonny Bell has expressed his regret at head coach Alexander Cox’s decision to quit the job after only a year in charge and with just eight weeks to go before the crucial Olympic qualifiers, writes John Flack.
However, the Lisnagarvey defender also questioned the wisdom of initially appointing a coach who was based abroad and had, therefore, limited contact-time with the players as he combined the Ireland job with being in charge of SV Kampong in his home country in the Netherlands.
Cox’s departure came as little surprise after he gave a strong hint that he would step down when he addressed the media after what was a dismal European Championship campaign in Antwerp in a remarkably frank assessment of his time in charge, describing it as a ‘failure’.
Ireland finished bottom of the eight-team tournament and behind two-lower ranked nations in Scotland and Wales after failing to secure a win.
Cox said: “After taking some time to reflect on the past year, and the goals we have both achieved and failed to achieve, I have come to the decision that it is best for me to step back from this role with the Irish men’s squad.
“It was a hard decision to make, and I’m grateful to Hockey Ireland for the opportunity it has afforded me.
“I would like to thank the players for their commitment over the past year and I hope they go on to do well in the future.
“It has been a tough few weeks, but credit to the players and staff as they have given it their all at every stage.
“We just didn’t manage to pull together the result we felt we are capable of. At this time, I feel it is best for me to step back as coach so the team can have a fresh start towards the important Olympic qualifier”.
Bell believes Cox’s ‘double jobbing’ wasn’t ideal, through no fault of his own, and feels that a change of head coach should have possibly been considered following the World Cup in India last November.
He said: ” I’m obviously sorry that it’s come to this but thankful for the contribution that Alex made.”
“It wasn’t easy for him being based abroad. He’s a world-class coach but unfortunately, we probably didn’t get enough contact hours with him to make a real difference.
“We were three months out from a World Cup when [Cox’s predecessor] Craig Fulton stepped away so, as an interim option, I think it was a good solution to appoint Alex in the short-term to take us to that World Cup.
“But It remains to be seen whether the decision to continue after the World Cup was the right one.
“I think off the back of Antwerp, it was clear that the role of an Ireland senior men’s hockey coach requires a lot of coaching hours in the country and a lot of exposure for the coach developing players.
“Unfortunately, with the arrangement that we had, it wasn’t Alex’s fault he could only give the commitment that he could give and that was probably deemed by Hockey Ireland to be sufficient but it was just clear that we needed more time with him.”
With such a short time before the qualifiers for a place at the Tokyo Olympics, it seems likely Hockey Ireland will make an interim appointment.
Bell added: “There is going to have to be some banging of heads together to identify the options and take us forward to the end of October.”
“It’s very short notice and there isn’t really time for a full-on recruitment process. It really needs to be a stop-gap, someone who can come in and motivate and drive the team for a period of eight or nine weeks.
“And then, at that point, try to identify a longer-term option so there will have to be some quick thinking done and brainstorming potential options and it’s a question of availability as well for the various training requirements for the new coach.”
Bell says the players must also bear some of the responsibility for the nightmare that was Antwerp which ultimately contributed to Cox’s untimely exit.
“Coaching is only one small part of it and ultimately the players are responsible for the performance on the pitch which wasn’t good enough,” said the 31-year-old.
“We’ve got to look at the reasons for that and try to correct it as quick as possible and our basics weren’t quite up to scratch and that let us down.”