It has been a busy schedule since my last newsletter. On Wednesday 13th October, I was invited by the Minister of Communities, Deirdre Hargey, to a reception in the Great Hall Parliament Buildings, Stormont, to celebrate the achievements of Northern Ireland’s athletes in the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Out of the 12 athletes present, four were members of the Ireland Women’s Hockey Team – Katie Mullan, Shirley McCay, Lizzie Holden and Zara Malseed. Katie and Shirley were interviewed and spoke very well about their experience.
It was time for the European Hockey Federation World Qualifiers and on Thursday 21st October I travelled to Cardiff to support the Ireland Men in their tournament. I stayed in the Village Hotel, as did Ireland squad, which was approx. a 20–25-minute journey to Sophia Gardens.
The players and support staff were in a bubble, ate their meals in a separate area and we just met if we were in the reception area at the same time. As a result, I was not able to congratulate and present Johnny McKee with his 50th cap on Thursday 21st and Shane O’Donoghue with his 200th cap on Sunday 24th. The team conducted themselves impeccably well during their stay and were a credit to Hockey Ireland.
In their first match, they played very well against a strong Russian team and were clear winners, 2-0. The Russians were only allowed to field 11 on-field players due to Covid restrictions, but this did not take away from the Irish victory. Our men deserved the win. The Irish players were quietly confident going into the Welsh game on Saturday, knowing that the winners would secure a place in the World Cup. However, it wasn’t to be and Wales won the shoot-out competition after an unfortunate umpiring decision.
The match to decide 3rd and 4th places took place before the final on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, after taking the lead the Irish men could not hold off strong Austrian attacks. They had their chances, but another shoot-out competition, decided their 4th place. Wales came out winners of the tournament, beating France in a closely contested final.
As we cheered on the Irish men, we were wondering how we were going to be able to watch the women’s match online from Pisa. Sarah Campion, Hockey Ireland’s Media Officer, had the answer – she brought her lap-top to the side of the pitch and as she was multi-tasking and keeping Twitter feeds going, we were able see the women in action against Wales. We were delighted when the Irish girls held on to win and qualify for the World Cup.
On 30th & 31st October, I attended the WISE Hockey ID Festival at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus in Abbotstown where seven teams took part. Harbourne and Wakefield travelled from England with teams from Botanic, Monkstown, Railway Union, Three Rock Rovers and Wicklow joining the event. Players and officials were delighted to meet the Irish Minister of State for Sport, Jack Chambers, who came to support the event on the Saturday morning.
As part of the event, there was a FIH Hockey ID Coaching Course with Norman Hughes, Grahame Mansell-Grace, Hans Pieter van Beek and Hugh Santos working with coaches over the weekend. Our thanks go to Dwyne Hill for organising this event and to all the volunteers who made it such a memorable weekend for all.
The Under 16, Under 18 and Under 21 Interprovincials are being played under a different format for this season only. On Sunday 14th November, I travelled to Three Rock Rovers to watch the Connacht Under 18 and Under 16 teams take on Ulster. Two very exciting games were played. Ulster came out winners of both matches with the Under 18s winning 4-0 and the Under 16s winning 7-0. The Connacht girls played very well in both matches and did not give up until the final whistle.
As President of Hockey Ireland, I was invited to Stormont on Wednesday 24th November, to celebrate the commencement of Ulster Hockey’s 125 celebrations and the launch of Ulster Hockey’s Strategic Plan, hosted by the Minister of Communities, Deirdre Hargey. The theme was ‘The Past, The Present and the Future’ and guests listened to speeches from Joan McCloy, and Terry Templeton who talked about key events in the past, Shirley McCay and Conor Savage the present, and Marc Scott, Ulster Hockey’s Executive Manager who outlined the future with the key elements of the Strategic Plan.
It was very disappointing for the Ireland Women’s Under 21 team when the new Covid variant resulted in the postponement of the Junior World Cup that was scheduled for Potchefstroom in South Africa from 5th – 16th December. So much work has been put into preparing the squad and producing a detailed and amazing online programme of 88 pages. It was an honour to write the introduction for this programme. We hope that it can be rescheduled in the not-too-distant future. The team travelled to Spain instead for a quickly arranged Four Nations tournament in Valencia from Wednesday, December 8 to Sunday, December 12.
I was an observer at Hockey Ireland’s EGM which was held online on Thursday 25th November.
On various weekends, I have enjoyed watching matches closer to home. On 16th October I watched the first half of Irish Trophy game between NICS and Queens at Stormont with Queens leading, then made my way to Lagan College to see the second half of the Irish Senior Cup match Annadale playing Pembroke. There was a good crowd of supporters for both teams, with Queens and Pembroke coming out winners.
On 20th November, I looked in at the EYHL 2 game at Queens Playing Fields to watch the home team play UNIG and come out winners 3-0, then went to Newforge to see a very close game with Pegasus drawing 3-3 with UCD in their EYHL 1 match. On 4th December, on a bitterly cold afternoon at Deramore, I watched a closely contested game between Belfast Harlequins and Muckross, with the home side coming out on top with a winning score of 2-1. On Sunday 5th December, after the online Hockey Ireland Board Meeting, I called into Lisnagarvey Hockey Club to see the Under 21 Interprovincial game between Ulster and Leinster with Leinster coming out the stronger side to take their chances in the circle and win 3-1.
A great crowd of supporters braved a damp and cold afternoon on Wednesday 8th December for the McCullough Cup Final, to watch a close and exciting match between Banbridge Academy and Wallace High School. Wallace took an early lead but Banbridge came back strongly and won this prestigious cup 3-1.
In a post-match chat, I was talking to one of the school Principals who congratulated Ulster Hockey and Hockey Ireland for the continuation of hockey in the current pandemic situation, as events like these are important to be kept running in the school calendar. I arrived home in time to tune in to the webinar for the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s EGM, as the voting delegate for Hockey Ireland.
Last Sunday, 12th December I was delighted to attend the opening of the newly surfaced hockey pitch at Dundalk Grammar School with Trevor Watkins and Shane O’Donoghue. Our thanks go to the Principal, Mr Jonathan Graham and to the Board of Governors for making us very welcome. We enjoyed watching the Senior Girls play against Boyne and must congratulate both teams on a very sporting and skilful game of hockey. A timelapse, showing the tremendous work that had gone into removing the former playing surface, that had lasted 27 years, to the laying of the new pitch, was an excellent idea and a two-minute video, shown during refreshments, summed up the work very well.
From Dundalk I travelled to the Antrim Forum to watch indoor matches and present the winners of the Under 18 Girls’ Tournament, Coleraine with the trophy. My congratulations go to all the teams that took part during the afternoon. I look forward to returning to the Antrim Forum on 28th and 29th December Ireland’s men and women in their international matches against Scotland.
Unfortunately in the build up to the festive season, we are back to online meetings but let us hope that our matches can continue uninterrupted.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a healthy and enjoyable 2022.
19th December 2021