Fans to the rescue for Green Machine

A remarkable fundraising drive by the Irish hockey community had a happy ending as Ireland’s participation in next month’s men’s Champions Challenge I in Argentina was confirmed yesterday.

The Irish Hockey Association’s board announced their intention to withdraw from the high-profile tournament, which takes place in Quilmes from November 24 to December 2, last Tuesday, citing the absence of a coach and manager in place.

However, following a huge backlash from players and supporters alike — fearful of ranking points deductions that would undo the rise of the country to 15th in the world over the past three seasons — it soon became clear that finance was at the heart of the issue.

That culminated in a frenzied effort to raise the €45,000 necessary to send the side to South America, beginning on Friday, with hopes of making enough of a dent in the figure ahead of yesterday’s entry deadline set by the International Hockey Federation (FIH).

Amazingly, the target was reached and surpassed inside four days via an overwhelming response from the sport’s grassroots, with over €58,000 raised in total.

More than 200 individuals, including players from rival international teams, contributed almost €38,000 between them to an online donation page, while more than €21,000 was raised elsewhere as a variety of corporate benefactors came on board.

The proceeds from the ongoing sale of tickets for the IHA’s ‘mega draw’ will also go towards the senior men’s programme.

“What has taken place over the last week is simply remarkable,” admitted Ireland captain Ronan Gormley.

“On behalf of the Irish men’s team, I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all who have contributed. We have been told that we have inspired people through our performances; right now we are truly inspired by you (the public).”

An IHA board statement added that the figures are not final, with some verbal commitments still in the pipeline, adding that all funds raised will go towards the men’s squad and not running the association. “This is recognised as the express wishes of the vast majority of contributors and will be honoured,” the statement added.

Outgoing IHA chief executive Angus Kirkland yesterday told RTÉ News that “the board underestimated the strength of feeling; the fact the hockey community have got around us has enabled us to change the decision.”

While the squad can now return to focusing on their preparations for Argentina, incoming chief executive Mike Heskin will be tasked with rebuilding the bridges between the board and the squad, who weren’t consulted about the initial decision.

Finding a longer-term funding and sponsorship solution is also on the agenda; while the women’s side are supported by Electric Ireland, the men have only been able to secure occasional short-term shirt sponsorship.

“Finding a sponsor has proved a major stumbling block for the Irish men’s team for years,” said midfielder Geoff McCabe.

“I feel the board have missed numerous opportunities and haven’t been aggressive enough in finding a suitable sponsor. There has to be a line drawn as to players’ involvement with matters like this, because all we want to do is focus on competing. How can those in the association justify their wage if players have to go out and source a team sponsor? For the long-term planning and support of the Irish men’s programme, this must be addressed.”

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