The new hockey season is now in full swing but let me start this Newsletter by going back to June of this year when the FIH World Series Finals for the Road to Tokyo both for the Women and the Men took place during this month.
The Women’s team were first out of the blocks when the tournament was held at Banbridge Hockey Club from June 8th to June 16th. A very big thank you to Banbridge Hockey Club for hosting this tournament at short notice when there wasn’t a suitable venue available in Dublin. Following a very gruelling schedule of pool matches both Ireland and Korea came top of their groups and came together in the Final on June 16 where Korea got the better of Ireland on a score line of 3-1. Both teams then qualified to go forward to the next phase for the qualifiers to take place in November.
A special mention must go to all the members of Banbridge Hockey Club along with all the other volunteers from the various clubs in Ireland. A special mention must also go to Inez Cooper and Joan Morgan for steering the ship for this event. During the event there was also a reception by the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council which was attended by various dignitaries.
The Men’s team had to travel to Le Touquet, in France for their World Series Tournament which overlapped with the Women’s event in Banbridge. In this event both Ireland and France topped their respective pools and played of for the No 1 spot and this honour went to France on a score of 3-1 in a very tough encounter. However, both France and Ireland advanced to the Olympic Qualifiers to be played in October.
August was the month for the European Championships which were held this year in Antwerp, Belgium which unfortunately due to illness, I was unable to travel to at the last minute. The Women’s team had a very satisfactory tournament finishing a very credible 5th position. However, the same can’t be said of the Men’s side who unfortunately lost their Division 1 status and will be fighting hard over the next number of years to regain this position.
On August 31st I was invited to Mossley Hockey Clubs annual dinner where they were celebrating their 90th year in existence. It was a very special occasion and a very enjoyable evening where the speeches weren’t too long but very entertaining. The dinner was held in the Old Mill and the evening ended with a lot of the guests returning to the Clubhouse to finish off their evening.
September saw both the Boys and Girls Interpros taking place with the Boys competing in Belfast where the Ulster boys were victorious in the U16 competition with Munster taking the honours in the U18 event. In fact, this was the first time that Munster won these Interpros since 2005 where the Harte brothers David & Conor were represented on this team.
The Girls Interpros took place this year in Garryduff, Cork where Ulster had a clean sweep in both the U16 and U18 competitions taking regaining the honours from Leinster who won both in 2018.
On September 7th as President I was invited to chair the AGM of the IHUA which was very well attended this year.
On October 14th I was invited to attend the Cork City & County Youth Awards where the month of September winner was a hockey player. Kevin O’Dea of C of I hockey club and Ashton School was the recipient of this award for captaining the Munster U18 team who brought the trophy back to Munster for the first time in fourteen years. Kevin was also the Captain of the Irish U18 team which competed in the Europeans in 2018 which were held in the Mardyke in Cork.
Later in October the All Ireland Schoolboys Championships took place this year in Dublin where seven venues were used during the three day competition. The weather was magnificent for the first two days but unfortunately on the Friday of the tournament the rain was incessant as both semi finals were played in atrocious conditions, however the four teams put on a magnificent display of hockey despite the weather. The final took place later that afternoon, still in bad conditions, at Columbus College between High School and St Andrews when after a magnificent comeback by High School in the second half they forced the game to a Shootout which they subsequently won on sudden death with a score of 7-6 to take the Tasmanian Shield back to High School for the very first time.
This year also saw the introduction of a Plate Competition for the inaugural Herbie Sharman Shield, which was presented by Kilkenny College. Herbie was a former teacher in the College for 27 years and was also a coach for the school and was manager of many underage Leinster and Irish teams as well as being President of Hockey Ireland from 2010/2012. This competition is played for by the runners up in the 4 pools and this year’s final was between two Cork sides, Ashton and Bandon, with Bandon winning out on this occasion with a score line of 1-0.
November was a big month for Irish Hockey with both the Men’s and Women’s teams playing their respective Olympic Qualifiers for a place in Tokyo 2020. Both teams were drawn against Canadian opposition, with the men playing away in Vancouver and the women playing at home in Energia Park in Donnybrook.
At the end of the second leg in Vancouver, the game finished in controversial circumstances with the Irish team coming out the wrong end of a very unusual umpiring decision. As a result of this the Men’s side will not now, due to this unfortunate incident be going to the Tokyo Olympics next year.
The Ireland Women’s team played Canada on a specially laid an International Hockey pitch to the same standard as the Tokyo Olympic Polytan pitch on a rugby ground in Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. This was achieved with the help of 57 local volunteers with over 350 hours over three sessions to deliver this project. Having drawn the first leg 0-0 in atrocious conditions the stage was set for an intriguing second game. On a much better night for hockey watched by over 6137 people in the stadium and a peak live audience of 397,000 watching on TV. Again, after a nail biting finish, not the best hockey game we’ve seen, it again finished in stalemate at 0-0. So, we went to the dreaded shoot outs. After the first three rounds Ireland were down 1-3….. enter goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran to once again make two crucial saves (as in last year’s World Cup) while Beth Barr and Chloe Watkins both scored and to set up a sudden death scenario. Roisin Upton stepped up to take the first shoot out and squeezed the ball into the net from a very acute angle while Ayeshia went on to thwart the Canadian player. The Canadian player came forward to take her shoot out but failed to score within the 8 seconds allowed.
And so, the celebrations could begin, the Irish team made history by becoming the first Women’s Hockey team to make an appearance at an Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Many congratulations to Coach Sean Dancer and all the backroom staff on a magnificent achievement.
On Saturday November 9th I, along with my wife Anne were invited guests to the 125th Anniversary Dinner of Monkstown Hockey Club. This event was held at The Pavilion, Leopardstown where 220 guests sat down to an excellent meal which was followed by dancing until the early hours. I spoke on behalf of Hockey Ireland to respond to a toast to Ireland. A very enjoyable night was had in excellent company.
I want to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a healthy and peaceful 2020.