The Irish Hockey Association (IHA) and Kuper announced her resignation jointly yesterday, in a move not entirely unexpected, and which comes after the Irish team recently missed out on qualification for the World Cup in Madrid in September, despite several strong performances against higher-ranked opposition.
Kuper had been national coach of the team for eight years, from 1998 to 2006, and it is understood she had considered stepping down after the European Championships in Dublin last year but stayed on to see the team through the World Cup-qualifying campaign.
“Coaching the committed and responsible players of the Irish squad has been a real pleasure,” Kuper said last night. “We achieved the position that Ireland has become a respected opponent for any international team. However after all these years I know it’s the right decision to retire. The early timeframe of my announcement will give the IHA time to appoint a new coach.
“If all the plans for improving support to the Irish internationals can be realised, then the team will grow even further and a realistic goal can be qualification for the 2008 Olympics.”
Praise for the work of Kuper came from IHA high performance director, Dave Passmore.
“Having first seen the team while I was working with England back in 1999, it is a testament to Riet’s commitment and high standards as to how far they have come, culminating in the fifth place in Dublin last year and some excellent results in Rome this month,” Passmore said.
IHA chief executive Paul Varian added his thanks. “Riet has put enormous effort into Irish hockey,” he said. “It is a credit to how far she has taken this team that we are now able to aim our targets for the women’s team at the highest levels of international hockey.
“The success that the team has enjoyed recently, which included qualification for the 2002 World Cup, an Olympic qualifying tournament in 2004 and a best-ever European Nations Championship finish of fifth in Dublin last year, is down to Riet and the standards she has engendered in the team.”
Kuper took over as national coach in 1998 for the European Nations Cup qualifier in Helsinki, from which the team qualified for the European Nations Cup in 1999 in Cologne. She narrowly missed out on qualification for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and the Athens Olympics in 2004, and came close to qualifying the team for the World Cup this year after impressive results against Korea and New Zealand. She also qualified the team for the 2002 World Cup in Perth and raised the team’s world and European rankings to its highest ever of 13th and fifth respectively.
The IHA said last night it would announce shortly its plans to source a new national coach for the senior women’s team.
With Passmore also currently acting as senior men’s coach, it may be that he will focus solely on his high performance role and a new men’s coach will be sought along with a new women’s coach.