The National Sports Campus in Abbotstown played host to the inaugural WISE Hockey ID Fest last weekend with over 50 young players with intellectual disabilities enjoying international hockey competition.
For two days over the weekend, seven teams, 18 coaching delegates and a team of FIH Academy Coach Educators worked together to put on a splendid show of inclusive hockey, while also providing some great learning and training opportunities for the coaching delegates.
So impressive was the ambition of this inaugural project that it attracted government interest and the Irish Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers was on hand to lend his support
“The event was so affirming and inspiring and shows what sport is truly about. It’s when your child walks off a pitch declaring himself to be a ‘superstar’ you know it’s been a massive success,” said a parent of a youngster playing for the Botanic Blitzers.
The weekend highlights included Zumba warm-ups; an inclusive atmosphere that was enjoyed by participants; their parents and the coaching staff and umpires; and a taste of competitive hockey action with teams and staff that came from both Ireland and further afield.
“[It was] Brilliant to see Irish Hockey organise an inclusive #hockey4all international tournament for teams across Ireland and the UK in the Sport Campus in Blanchardstown today. Great to meet the teams, families and volunteers,’ Minister Chambers tweeted.
Five of the teams came from clubs in Ireland, with a further two joining the action from England. The delegates on the FIH Academy Coach Education course were from Ireland, England and the Netherlands.
The Coach Educators were Hugo Santos of Portugal, Hans Pieter van Beek of the Netherlands, goalkeeping specialist Grahame Mansell-Grace and FIH Hockey ID Project lead and former GB international Norman Hughes.
The participating teams were: Wakefield, Railway, Monkstown, Botanic, Wicklow, Harbourne and Three Rock Rovers, with every team playing each other over the course of the competition.
At the close of the inaugural HockeyID Festival, the feedback was hugely positive.
Elina Doyle, a member of the Three Rock Rockets squad, said: “I really enjoyed the tournament. I had so much fun with meeting up with everyone and spending time together with different clubs. I really loved it a lot.”
Ann Murray, manager of the Botanic Blitzers, gathered the following feedback from the team’s parents and players: “The tournament this weekend has further consolidated the Botanic HC commitment of an inclusive way forward for the club and the Blitzers team.
“This is a win-win for players and club members and represents a remarkable partnership with the local community.
“The enthusiasm of the coaches, players and supporters was simply infectious. This is an event we will all remember as a very significant moment for all of us. Long may it be repeated. The smiles on the players faces and their sense of achievement can’t be measured. Thank you to everyone involved and well done.”
Daniel Monahan, who represented Wicklow Vikings, said: “I had great fun at the two days of the festival. It was great to meet other teams from Ireland and the UK. Our team are quite new and it was our first time at a festival.
“It was my first time playing in a match and I got to play in six over the weekend and I scored in every match. I enjoyed our training session learning about block tackles.”
Matthew from the Rockets gave a big thumbs up to the music that played out over the loud speakers, adding to the festival atmosphere and said he enjoyed making friends from different clubs.
Brilliant to see @irishhockey organise an inclusive #hockey4all International tournament for teams across Ireland & the UK in the @SportIreCampus in Blanchardstown today. Great to meet the teams, families & volunteers🏑 pic.twitter.com/aDDiMfqNN7
— Jack Chambers TD (@jackfchambers) October 30, 2021
The music and Zumba was also popular with the parents gathered on the sideline. One mother, Adele Meenan, said: “It was great to be back at a sporting event. The atmosphere was great between all the teams from Ireland and the UK. The extra events like the Zumba dancing and hockey training sessions were lots of fun.”
Another parents added: “What a happy, happy day. Thank you all, it’s definitely one for the memory book. Thank you to all the coaches and volunteers who give up their time to coach all our special ones, this was a brilliant day today.”
Norman Hughes praised the hard work of Hockey Ireland development officer Dwyne Hill, and added: “We have got to thank Hockey Ireland for their generosity and enthusiasm to host this event.
“It is part of their inclusion programme and I think, looking at the outcome of this event, they are to be congratulated on the way they are promoting and enabling inclusivity in our sport.”