New Irish coach Smith vows to hit the ground running

New Irish senior women’s coach Darren Smith has hinted he may veer away from a centralised training system when he takes charge next month.

The New Zealander admits he won’t make any sweeping changes initially, having seen Ireland “head in the right direction” under Gene Muller and interim coach Denis Pritchard.

The girls in green pitched above their ranking to reach March’s Olympic qualifier final — losing to Belgium — and were the surprise packet of the Champions Challenge I in September, finishing third of the eight sides to rise to 14th in the world.

Muller controversially centralised the players in Dublin late in 2010, the side training together for 20 hours a week in a bid to get to London 2012. Ireland’s subsequent progress means history has reflected quite well on that decision, although many in Irish hockey maintain the club game outside Leinster suffered. Smith said he will weigh up whether to continue a similar programme.

“One of the topics to discuss is certainly around what sort of training environment we should set up. I don’t yet have a clear understanding of the pros and cons of the centralised programme that Gene [Muller] ran,” Smith told The Hook .

“I would think there would be some benefits but probably some pitfalls as well. That’s my experience with centralised programmes in New Zealand.

“I’ll hit the ground running when I get to Ireland so I can make a good call on what kind of programme would be good for the girls.

“I want to mix that with a good relationship with the top clubs. I know the girls work closely with their clubs and it’s important we [the Irish setup] can do that as well; support and supply information and also listen to what their desires are as well.”

Smith, who spent the last six years as coach to the New Zealand men’s team is hoping to hit the ground running as he has just a month to prepare for February’s World League Round 2 in Valencia, Spain

That will be the first step on the road to qualification for the 2014 World Cup, with Ireland seeded second. They are grouped with the top-ranked hosts Spain, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Italy with one more to be confirmed.

“We’re working pretty hard on getting the platform right and get everything in place so the girls are happy and ready to do some training over the winter months while I finish my commitments with New Zealand hockey,” Smith said.

“That build-up will be slanted toward when I get into the country around January 25. Almost immediately, we’ll look to head away from Ireland for eight or nine days where we can get to know each other and train to build a foundation.

“More importantly, the trip is for the girls to know me and me them. Gene Muller and Denis did a really good job over a number of years, and I’m reluctant in the short term to break down something that’s operating quite well.

“The idea is when I get off the plane, the girls are lean and fit and physically raring to go. In those five weeks, we can put some good hockey into them and have them firing for World League 2.”

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