Furious players prompt officials to revisit call to cancel trip

Irish hockey chiefs were last night attempting to salvage the wreckage of the decision not to send the men’s national team to next month’s Champions Challenge I in Argentina.

The Irish Hockey Association (IHA) board announced their intention to withdraw the side on Tuesday, citing the absence of a coach and manager as reasoning why they felt “the squad could not be properly prepared for this prestigious world tournament”.

That decision, taken without consultation with the players, sparked furious reactions from across the hockey community, not least the players themselves.

Aghast at the prospect of dropping from 15th to 18th in the world rankings due to the associated loss of ranking points, undoing the progression made in the past three years under Paul Revington, the players say they have been overwhelmed by support for their stance.

An IHA working group met last night to consider proposals to see if a way can be found to send the side to Argentina, as Ireland have yet to formally inform the International Hockey Federation (FIH) of their withdrawal.

While the national body are maintaining that the lack of coach is the primary issue, they have admitted there is a financial aspect to thedecision, the seriousness of which many believe is being underplayed.

The estimated cost of the trip is €57,500 and with the advent of the World League adding up to four extra tournaments to the calendar every two years for each of Ireland’s teams, IHA chief executive Angus Kirkland has admitted a “difficult financial year” lies ahead.

“There is a financial impact — this was communicated, possibly not in the statement, but in the letter to the players (issued on Tuesday morning),” he said. “The tournament was coming in at more than we budgeted, certainly more than 2009, even adjusted for inflation. That has an impact on the organisation as a whole. It’s a difficult financial year.

“We do not want to be withdrawing from anything next year. We anticipate two rounds of the World League — for both men and women — and the Europeans. That’s six competitions in a year. It’s a tough year for sport generally but it is an expensive year.”

Kirkland admitted the communication of the decision to the players left something to be desired.

“It was a tough decision for the board, not one they wanted to take. Clearly the players are unhappy, not just about the message but also the way it was related.

“We are working with the players, the high performance working group and the board to see whether there is anything further that can be done.

“The coach issue is the primary issue. The question whether we can prepare a team properly, have someone at the event with the team.

“With the World League coming between February to May, we thought it would be better to have a coach coming in November to have a clean run into February..”

Having initially vented their frustrations on Twitter, Irish players yesterday took a more circumspect approach as they await the outcome of any potential change to the situation, thanking supporters for getting behind them.

A Facebook page, Send Ireland Men’s Hockey Team to Argentina for the Champions Challenge, amassed a couple of hundred ‘likes’ within hours of being set up.

Meanwhile, an announcement on who will replace Paul Revington — who resigned in May — as coach is expected late next week, with two candidates left in the frame, believed to be one European and one from Oceania. They will be interviewed in the coming days.

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