Ireland land European championships

HOCKEY officials are expecting an upsurge in the popularity of the sport when Dublin hosts the Women’s European Championships in Belfield next year.

Ireland beat off a number of bids, including one from Scotland, for the prestigious eight-nation tournament which will be played next July or August. Now they aim to utilise that home advantage in their bid to improve on a sixth place finish in last year’s tournament in Barcelona.

But the expectation does not end there. IHA chiefs are also hoping to reap the rewards of increased exposure on a number of levels, both playing and financial, according to Irish Hockey Association vice president Grace Redmond.

“That exposure on television and in newspapers is superb. The big hope is that we get television coverage of the event itself. The kids will be out with their hockey sticks and balls and it will certainly raise the profile of the sport in this country,” Redmond said.

“Because we are a minority sport it is always difficult when trying to secure sponsorship deals. Having secured a television deal, sponsorship is much easier to attain. I’m certain we will begin negotiations with RTÉ straight away.”

The National Hockey Stadium in UCD is no stranger to such competition having hosted six prestigious tournaments in the past decade.

“We hosted the World Cup in 1994. In 1995 we hosted the Men’s European Nations Cup. Two years ago the mens and womens European qualifiers were played here. Last year it was the U18 A Women’s European Tournament and this year we have the U21 A Women’s European Tournament.”

She believes the European Hockey Federation were swayed in their decision by Ireland’s powerful record as event organisers over the past ten years.

“They have confidence in us,” Redmond said. “We have run them, and we have run them well. There are also great knock-on benefits to the economy as a lot of people come and a lot of those supporters then remain on for a few days to holiday around Ireland.

“We will be expecting the likes of Holland and Germany who have great supporters [and] Spain, England and the Ukraine to be amongst the countries who will be competing and they will be bringing many fans.”

She also heaped praise on the Irish Sports Council for their work and support. “The Sports Council have been fabulous. I really cannot say enough about them and I am sure that they will continue to give us such wonderful support.”

The Irish senior women’s squad will participate in the qualification tournament for the Olympic Games, in Auckland next month. Meanwhile, Germany have been awarded the men’s event, which will be held in Leipzig.

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