Ireland Head Coach Graham Shaw believes it’s “now or never” if Ireland is to realise its potential as a hockey nation on the world stage.
Speaking in the wake of his team’s incredible silver medal at the Hockey Women’s World Cup, Shaw admitted that hockey in the country finds itself at a crossroads.
“There will be expectations now but with expectation comes opportunity. We’ve got to grab this opportunity because we want to go to Tokyo. That’s the next aim now. We set out two years ago to qualify for the World Cup and we did that. We represented ourselves as well as we could and we came second. Now we must build on that and come October we start to build towards qualifying for Tokyo.”
Much has been made of the lack of financial support for the Irish team with players being forced to self-fund, take time off day jobs and juggle careers alongside being international athletes. It is a well-documented problem and one that makes Ireland’s charge to the World Cup final even more impressive.
Plaudits are not what Shaw is interested in at this point, however. Now that Ireland has the attention of the hockey world and perhaps more importantly, the wider public in their homeland, he believes now is the time to lay the foundations to allow Ireland to build on this extraordinary tournament, not just in the short term, but in the long term, too.
“We came on this journey as part of a four year cycle. We looked first at the World Cup. We came here and won a silver medal which is a huge achievement. When we meet up again we’ll be setting our sights on Tokyo. When we qualify for Tokyo we’ll set our sights on a medal. We’re not aiming to just compete or make up the numbers we’re aiming to achieve the best finish we possibly can.”
“It’s an exciting time. We’ve just come second in the world. We’ve just played in the World Cup final. It’s now or never. If people can’t get behind the sport now after seeing what we can achieve, the rewards we can give the Irish community, they never will.”
“If we put a long term strategy in place there’s a bright future. There is enough talent in Ireland to win medals in the future. There is no doubt in my mind about that. It’s about giving them the platform to succeed. This is what we must aim for.”
Ireland’s men’s team, preparing for their own World Cup in India in December, lost their coach Craig Fulton to Belgium a month or so ago. One of his reasons for leaving was that he could not continue to keep Ireland competitive at the top of the game with so little funding and contact time with his players.
Ireland’s athletes have had to pay out of their own pocket on more than one occasion. Compare that to say, the funding UK Sport has sent the way of the Great Britain teams, said to be in the region of £17m for the Tokyo cycle, it is not difficult to see why Fulton felt he had to move on and why Shaw is frustrated with the situation.
As Shaw says, now is the time for the powers that be in Irish Sport and Irish Hockey to decide what is to become of hockey. Do things stay as they are or does someone take the plunge and allow Shaw’s dreams to become a reality and Ireland to win more world level medals?
It’s now or never.