Ireland coach to quit after Olympic qualifiers

Ireland’s senior women will lose coach Darren Smith after June’s Olympic qualifiers — regardless of whether they get to Rio or not.

Ireland coach to quit after Olympic qualifiers

Smith yesterday confirmed he will step down after the World League 3 in Valencia next month, with current assistant coach Graham Shaw stepping up to the head coach role.

The New Zealander yesterday said his decision was motivated by a desire to return to his homeland to be with his family, news which wasn’t entirely unexpected in Irish hockey circles.

It is a significant blow to Irish hockey, given the success Smith has had since taking over in January 2013, although the appointment of Shaw at least ensures immediate continuity with the remainder of the coaching staff also staying put.

Smith’s tenure started inauspiciously as Ireland surprisingly crashed out of World League 2 in February 2013, but since then he has built a highly effective attacking unit, playing a more eye-catching style than was seen under Gene Muller.

In 2014, the national side produced its best performance on the world stage in over a decade when they earned a silver medal at the Champions Challenge in Glasgow, beating world number eight side Korea as well as World Cup-bound South Africa.

Ireland beat four higher ranked nations in 2014, ending the year with a run of seven wins in succession. The momentum carried through to World League 2 in March, a key step on the road to Rio de Janeiro, with six wins from six games.

Smith said: “We have loved our time in this beautiful country. The warmth of the people and particularly the hockey community has made it an extremely enjoyable experience.

“I’m very proud of the work that we have done with the team, and am very much looking forward to World League 3 to see us step up to an even higher level. The team is a delight to coach and is filled with talented, committed and intelligent women who are focused on bringing success to Ireland.”

Smith cited Shaw as a “huge support” during his two-and-a-half-year tenure, and the Dubliner will relish his new role having won 151 caps as a player between 2002 and 2009.

Shaw takes on the role with little international coaching experience, and bucks a trend in modern times of Ireland appointing foreign coaches. However, he has already carved out an impressive career at club level and with the Irish U18 boys. In 2010, he created a unique piece of history by coaching Loreto to the women’s Irish Senior Cup title before, on the same day, winning the men’s man of the match title in Glenanne’s success.

More recently, Shaw coached Monkstown to the 2013 Irish Senior Cup — their first national title in 99 years — and they went on to become the first club to win three Irish Hockey League titles in succession under his tutelage.

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