New Irish coach Andrew Meredith has revealed himself revealed himself to be a former art director and lover of graphic design — his method of switching off from “a hotel room that looks like NASA” when he’s away at hockey tournaments.
He won’t be taking any broad brushstrokes to the Irish panel however, as he meticulously outlined the processes he wants to put in place having “identified weaknesses in the team in terms of the pre-requisites required” for Ireland to consistently contend with the world’s top 10.
It is an assessment borne out of an encouraging first competitive outing with the side, claiming bronze at the Champions Challenge I in Buenos Aires in Ireland’s first entry to this level of competition.
Hired in a hurry for the tournament, his side battled a limited preparation period with just a couple of days together in Amsterdam before leaving a cold European winter and taking on 35 degree Argentine heat.
Coping with such tidings reached an almost natural boiling point in a roasting bronze medal match, reduced to nine men in extra time Malaysia.
Meredith admitted, after over 20 years around professional hockey, that he had never been involved in a competition quite like it.
“Of course, there’s been unusual circumstances where I’ve had limited preparation before but these were exceptional circumstances,” he told The Hook. “It’s credit to the guys who were able to overcome every obstacle that was thrown at them.”
And, in general, Meredith was delighted with how his new charges came through the competition.
“It’s a good base and a good place to start with. We’ve overcome some of the most difficult circumstances and we’re looking forward to putting things in place where we can operate more proactively.”
Given that short notice, he admits that while he has “set ideas about how things should be”, there was little time to fully imprint his mark on the side but the side was moving closer to being “on the same page” by mid-tournament.
He did add, though, that Ireland will need to add an extra couple of layers to their game if they are to close in on a targeted place in the world’s top ten.
“To compete regularly against the world’s top six, I’ve identified weaknesses in the team in terms of the pre-requisites which are fundamental for achieving some kind of success. It might take some time to have consistent success.
“But being able to manage the game against various types of opposition is important. The attacking style Ireland play is commendable but against the top teams, you have to be more flexible. That’s my first injection of information. We’re working on expanding on what’s already there.”
To that end, Meredith said he was pleased with how the side took on the new information in Quilmes but felt, at times, they forgot to keep some of their core values.
Among those attributes is Ireland’s reputations as “fierce competitors”, something Meredith got an idea of through contact prior to his appointment. He came into contact with David and Conor Harte and Mitch Darling via his SCHC connections while he came also knew Ronan Gormley from his time in Spain.
Their passion to continue the upward trajectory played a part in helping him step away from the assistant coach’s job with Germany, a post he held for six years and to two Olympic gold medals.
“The easy thing for me would be to say, ‘let’s go again’. But this time in my life, I recently turned 40 and have been involved in professional hockey since my teens.
“We have a petrie dish in the form of the players and now it’s a matter of finding a way to spend enough time with them to be even more successful.”
Given recent events, the question of budget is raised. In response to how he will look to manage potential issues, Meredith says that he has been enjoying the chaotic start to his reign and his stint as an artistic director of a small design company can lend itself well to adapting programmes to fit.
“People would tell me their problems; like advertising dealing with their budgets and deadlines; wanting more done for less money. You have to find creative solutions and that part of it is something a coach works through.
“I get to work through a number of problems early in my time, to get stuff in place on a more solid foundation. It will be good for us if we can build something while the (economic) conditions are difficult and we have to be creative. I like the challenge and I’m enthusiastic about it.”
“Argentina was a crisis. Now we have a mini-crisis with New Delhi [for World League round two in February], because the FIH (International Hockey Federation) have yet to confirm a lot of the specifics, – how many teams, who are competing, how many rest days and so on.”
But while the Irish hockey public may be anxious about the future, Meredith says things could be far worse. Specifically, Santi Freixa offered an illuminating view of Spanish hockey last week in an interview with hockey.nl. – a hockey nation in dire straits with no national trainer, no current funding and a group of national players who have had no contact from the federation about what is going on.
Ireland’s new coach, meanwhile, is keen to work with club coaches in a mutually beneficial exchange.
“How club hockey can assist the national programme is important to me. How I can assist club hockey and feedback this knowledge is also important. It’s a two-way system.”
He intends to meet coaches in January and talk about where the side is at and how it affects players. He is also keen to share knowledge on international trends with proposed debriefs for club coaches after each of the possible four major tournaments in the next year.
As for the logistics of how Meredith will run his high performance programme, the Australian brushed aside concerns about his decision to continue to base himself in Germany instead of Dublin.
“There are 18 players outside of Ireland who I can monitor on the continent and England without anyone accusing me of having European jaunts. Dublin is 90 minutes away if we’re training in UCD. What’s important is that fundamentals are put in place in our larger camps, taken away and worked at on a regional basis.”
Specifically, he adds that he will looking to give players more ownership of their programme, encompassing the physical, strength and conditioning, technical and tactical elements.
He hopes to have a few creative solutions, a method that matches his confident outlook.
“I’m looking at giving the guys a skill-set on the ball so they can develop a way of thinking that looks one or two seconds into the future about the best possible scenario.
“Taking that to a training environment, it’s a combination of working in small-group tactical sessions and then expanding it to larger sessions and international games.
“We take it apart, minimalise it to its smallest, most pure form and then expand it. That can be done in regional locations with direct coaching contact; through receiving film clips and the use of technology.”