New coach Smith ‘honoured’ to take Ireland hot seat

Seven months of searching is finally over for Irish hockey after New Zealander Darren Smith was yesterday named as the new senior women’s national coach.

Beaten to the punch in announcing Smith’s arrival by their Kiwi counterparts yesterday, the Irish Hockey Association won’t mind having taken their time to secure a top-class successor to Gene Muller, who resigned in March as Ireland failed to reach the Olympics.

Like Andrew Meredith — who takes the Irish men into their first tournament under his watch at the Champions Challenge I in Argentina this week — Smith has an impressive CV as an assistant coach.

Smith helped New Zealand’s men rise to sixth in the world rankings, having been assistant coach with the Black Sticks for the past six years, and a player the previous 11.

While Meredith continues to base himself in Germany — attracting criticism from those who believe it will prevent him running the rule over emerging local talent — Smith will move to live Ireland when he takes the reins in January.

“It has been a really tough decision,” Smith said yesterday. “To be part of a team for that long, means it is engrained in everything you do and is part of who you are.

“Ireland is a team tracking really well internationally — they were one game away from qualifying for London and have some great talent. I feel very honoured to be given the opportunity to be head coach and lead their programme.

“My fiancé Beth and I will be moving to Dublin in January to immerse ourselves in Irish life. We are looking forward to the adventure.”

Smith’s first competitive games will be in the lead-up to World League round two in Spain in late February. He will aim to build on impressive performances under interim coach Denis Pritchard in October’s Champions Challenge I, as Ireland finished third in Dublin.

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