With Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands this year following Germany and England in pulling out, Ireland U16 boys coach Ricky Lee said he felt “Ireland had to follow suit, which is a correct decision”.
An Irish Hockey Association statement cited “development purposes” as the rationale behind the move, taken in consultation with national senior coaches Andrew Meredith (men) and Darren Smith (women). Finance is also believed to have been a major consideration as Irish hockey continues to attempt to run eight national team programmes amid dwindling funding and sponsorship.
The national U16 programmes will now follow a similar pattern to what they had been using in European “off-years”, including a three-test series against one country and culminating in a Four Nations competition.
While these could likely include home nations Scotland and Wales, Ireland have been far stronger than those countries at underage level in recent years, and Lee said the IHA must ensure these games are suitably competitive.
“The pressure is now on our own governing body, mid-season, to find rewarding, competitive international games for our U16 programmes — and the current economic climate simply cannot be an excuse,” the Belfast man said.
“Ireland must be successful in the plan to have a test series as preparation to a Four Nations, which would be an ideal vehicle to develop our young aspiring internationals and give them a real taste of what the future may hold for them.”
Ireland will continue to compete in European competition at U18 level, the next of these coming in 2015. Meanwhile, the board of the Leinster Hockey Association (LHA) have accepted an invitation from the Irish Hockey Association (IHA) to make submissions and to meet on the future of the South East representative teams. The current three-year agreement, which followed the merger of Leinster Ladies, Leinster Men and South East will terminate end of the season.
A Facebook campaign highlighting the contributions of players from the area — which mainly takes in players from Wexford and Kilkenny — has gathered pace, bidding to ensure the permanent retention of the South East U16 and U18 interprovincial teams and keep a strong hockey presence in the area.