** Fuller tribute and interview piece to follow later this week **
Ronan Gormley has formally retired from international hockey, bringing to an end one of the most influential careers on Ireland’s journey to the world’s top ten.He was the first player to reach the 250-cap mark – ending on 256 – in 2016 and captained the side 121 times but, if possible, his importance to the sport went far beyond just playing for the Green Machine.
The teak-tough defender, now 35, was a central figure in pushing the boundaries off the field, working tirelessly to push the envelope with the Irish Hockey Association – now Hockey Ireland – on behalf of the team to secure top class coaches and greater funding in pursuit of their dreams.
It is something he made a nod to in his retirement message: “We have battled for everything we have achieved, on and off the pitch. The more we continue to achieve, the more funding and support we need. Please keep taking note.”
Leading the tributes was former coach at both Pembroke and Ireland Craig Fulton: “Ronan has a few outstanding strengths and the one that rings true for me and got stronger with experience and age for club and country is his relentless determination to compete.
“He was never beaten individually in his own mind and he gave as good as he got; he is a formidable competitor. His leadership style was modelled on this action speaks louder than words.
“I remember clearly when he played with a broken hand at right back for Ireland in the match where the European bronze medal was won; he would go on to help relieve other players on the pitch and do whatever needed to be done to help the team even with a broken hand.
“This attitude spilled over into a very well-thought out self-improvement plan where he focused specifically on the mental and physical aspects of his game that needed improvement to compete at the highest level. Ronan collectively helped raise the bar on and off the field on many levels in the Irish Mens team in its most successful period.
“Ronan also has a raw honesty around all who he worked with and especially his teammates which was also key in helping galvanise the belief needed at the time to qualify. He is a winner and has been a true servant to Irish hockey and I wish him all the best for his retirement and the next chapter in his work and family life.”
Born in Cork, he subsequently moved to England before returning to Ireland in his mid-teens where he played in Sandford Park in Dublin – helping win the school’s only Leinster senior league title in the past 40 years.
At Pembroke, he won everything in the game, incredible a quadruple in the 2008/09 season while he also helped Spanish-side Madrid reach the final of the Euro Hockey League in 2011.
With Ireland, he made his debut in 2004 in a 6-2 loss to India at a time when Ireland were ranked outside the world’s top 20. During his time, the side embarked on a remarkable rise, culminating in European bronze in 2015 and a first Olympic qualification for over a century in 2016.
What a man. The guy who truly pushed Irish hockey to the next level with his belief, hard work, talent and leadership. Loved playing in a green shirt with you @rogormley #ShoulderToShoulder https://t.co/uyWwUlrHiA
— Chris Cargo (@chriscargo25) September 25, 2018
Looking back on his career, he felt it was an element of fortune paved the path.
“To some extent, there is a lot of luck in sport and I was lucky to be playing during a time of immense talent in Irish hockey. Not only that, but those involved went above and beyond to do things no one expected of them and achieved things most said they couldn’t.”
He hailed coaches for pushing the agenda in an era when hockey has undergone a seismic shift toward professionalisation with Dave Passmore starting the ball rolling to raise standards with Paul Revington carrying on the progression.
Gormley – along with his father Frank – was a key figure in bringing Fulton to Ireland in the first place at club level with Pembroke, something which led on to the South African’s stellar time as national coach, finally reaching the Holy Grail.
While he has many playing highlights, Gormley did pick out playing in the 2012 Champions Challenge as “one never to be forgotten”. Hockey Ireland had withdrawn the national side from the competition only for the Irish public to raise €65,000 within a week to fund their journey to Argentina; their support was rewarded by a bronze medal.
Team mates were quick to pay tribute to his impact with Andy McConnell describing him as “without doubt the greatest leader I was lucky to share a pitch with, an inspirational to all and somebody who changed Irish hockey forever”.
David Harte added: “Leader, team mate, friend and legend. Thank you for your incredible service and all you did for me personally. Inspired a generation and leaving behind a legacy”.
What an amazing journey @rogormley @hookhockey & memories made to last a lifetime,so grateful to have shared some of these amazing experiences with you & @IreMenHockey most importantly as your friend #Spaniard#Captain#Dad #Onwards pic.twitter.com/0KG9EQmYvc
— Ned (@Nedstar5) September 25, 2018
His formal retirement was not overly surprising. He last played in green in March 2017 when Fulton was keen to use his experience at World League Round 2 in a transitioning side following the Olympics.
With increasing work commitments at his base in Germany and a growing young family, it became difficult to stay involved in the setup though Fulton was keen to keep the door open as long as possible.
Gormley, meanwhile, concluded his announcement by saying he is looking forward to supporting from afar, something he particularly enjoyed last month when watching the Irish women’s “heroic feats” and he will watch on from his vantage point on the sofa in November when the men are in action in India.