Ronan Gormley has landed a huge first head coaching job as the former Irish captain has been co-opted to take on the top job at Crefelder HTC in the German Bundesliga.
It was a job offer that came completely out of the blue for the former Pembroke and Club de Campo man who played with Crefeld between 2012 and 2018.
“I was a little bit surprised Crefeld reached out to me,” he told The Hook. “I heard they parted ways with the last coach but didn’t really think anything of it. The club was the reason I came to Germany and so [when they asked if I was interested] I thought it would be good to chat to the president Dirk Wellen.”
He was duly successful after an interview with five members of the club board. The move toward coaching was always in his mind; he had previously worked with the Campo youth school while his last two seasons with rising second tier outfit DSD Düsseldorf had seen him lead weekly sessions in addition to playing.
A club packed with young talent, Gormley – and fellow Irishmen Maurice Elliott – were deployed as experienced hands to guide the club’s development.
The Olympian admits the head job at Crefeld – who were in top four contention when this season was put on hiatus – will be a whole new realm but one which he feels he has a lot to offer.
He was a famously pivotal figure in changing the Irish senior men’s mindset and culture, not content to chug along in the usual way but ambitious to pursue a spot at the top table.
Such an attitude was steeled during his schooldays at Sandford Park, the tiny Ranelagh school. With just 14 hockey players in the top three years and only an astro tennis court on campus to work with, they defied the odds to win the Leinster Senior League in 2000.
An old school coach marvelled at Gormley’s organisation of his team mates to take active charge of organising the balls, bibs and cones. The “no excuses” mantra that underpinned the national team’s rise was already apparent, a leader in the making.
His career culminated in Euro bronze, qualifying for Rio and breaking into the world’s top ten as well as Euro Hockey League silver with Club de Campo; with Pembroke he won everything including a quadruple of Irish Senior Cup, Leinster league, EuroHockey Trophy and All-Ireland Club Championships in 2008/09.
“At the end of the last year, I reached out to the German federation about what my pathway is toward badges but I didn’t realise [an opportunity] would come about so quickly. Those badges will be done but it will be a steep learning curve.
“That was part of my consideration and whether I would be out of my depth. I have always been a player who is coach-minded and it’s a role that suits me.
“It is a big challenge but I look at the team and staff in Crefeld and it is very strong. I have a very good assistant coach who has built himself up from the youth and is highly specialised in the video analysis.
“If it was any other club, I wouldn’t have done it but there is a very high level of trust in me. They explained why they reached out and how I would fit in there.”
Mentors are not hard to come by. Gormley has already been in touch with Paul Revington and Craig Fulton – fellow architects of Ireland’s golden era – and hopes they will continue to have an open dialogue.
“There are loads of things I learned along the way about trying to lead a group of people to a common goal and all the different elements of how we improved as an Irish team was amazing to be part of.
“If I can mirror that in my own way, that would be an exciting prospect and I am lucky to have that kind of person to touch base with.”
As is typical of the man, he is taking no half measures. The club initially outlined the role as an add-on to his day job, working with Bord Bia to help Irish food companies attempt to set up in the German market.
Gormley, though, was keen to carve out more time in his schedule for the coaching role, aligning his client list accordingly amid his work-life balance with two young kids also on the agenda.
All the while, he will also have an influence on a number of Irish talents with Jonny McKee confirming he will make the switch from Banbridge next season. He sees McKee as an important face at the club with key striker Niklas Wellen – son of the club president – moving to Pinoké in the Netherlands this term.
Fellow Green Machinists Michael and Callum Robson, Matthew Nelson and Neal Glassey all played in the first half of the 2019/20 season before the pandemic took hold, adding to a sizeable Irish diaspora.
“The initial connection was established by Timmy Lewis who made a very good impression; me and Eugene [Magee] followed and Jason Lynch.
“Even on a non-hockey level, the Irish-German connection is strong; there’s an appreciation one for the other and every Irish player that has come over has made a good impression.
“On a hockey proficiency-level and, also, a personal level, it is a family-oriented club so they appreciate people who are going to fit in. The club has a target of producing more homegrown players but there is a need to supplement it with international players and so it works well.”
Gormley is hopeful that some or all of them will be around again should personal circumstances allow when the dust settles and a clearer picture of how the season’s schedule is laid out. The Bundesliga is provisionally set to restart in the first week of September; he starts up the job at the end of July.
Given his playing pedigree, success and drive, would he be eyeing up a longer-term view of the top Irish job?
“I have enough on my plate right now getting up to speed with Crefeld; we can look at that at a much later date!”