Graham Shaw says the lure of his “dream role” in New Zealand was too good to turn down, as he leaves behind a World Cup silver-medal- winning team for the world number six Blacksticks.
It follows a superb three-year reign as Ireland women’s boss, winning the European B division and World League Round 2, before capturing the nation’s imagination last summer in London.
However, just three months out from the Olympic qualification process, he shocked the hockey community by tendering his resignation on Monday. Hockey Ireland accepted and announced it a day later.
“It is somewhere I have always wanted to live and the outdoor life,” Shaw told the Irish Examiner. “It’s something [my wife] Ali and I have talked about for years, but it needs to align with your career and is a role that hasn’t come up for years; Mark Hager was in that job 10 years.”
Rumours of other offers have abounded, as Shaw follows a growing line of Ireland’s top coaching talents, such as Billy Walsh, to depart these shores for opportunities elsewhere.
From a hockey perspective, he is the second Irish senior national coach to vacate the position in the last 12 months ahead of a major tournament. Craig Fulton left the men’s team last summer to be assistant with the Belgian team, who won the World Cup in December.
Fulton explained the “reality”, that the Irish coach’s lot was to juggle so much more than his rivals beyond coaching, from fundraising to adjusting programmes, with workers, students and pro players dotted around the continent.
Since the women’s World Cup, Shaw called for greater support from Hockey Ireland and Sport Ireland to help get more time together with his players as a group.
The World Cup has seen the promise of greater funding and development of facilities, even if neither Abbotstown’s training centre nor the international-grade pitch at Belfield have started in earnest.
Nonetheless, the chance to focus primarily on coaching is a big draw, particularly with the introduction of the new FIH Pro League. The worldwide league sees nine nations play home and away for six months of the year and will be Shaw’s first port of call with the Blacksticks when he starts the role on May 1.
“It is difficult being outside the Pro League, when you are not in a semi-professional or a full-time programme. As a coach who wants to test himself, that was always going to be challenging. It’s the reality of where we are until we get a full-time programme [in Ireland].”
The Irish side he leaves behind are heading off to Bisham Abbey this weekend for two uncapped matches with Britain. It will be their first outing as a group since facing Spain in early February.
Two camps have been cancelled since then, which Shaw says was primarily down to “player unavailability”.
Results have been mixed in practice matches since the World Cup, but Shaw says it will not take a huge amount for Ireland to get back on track. “I have no doubt when they get together with everyone, you will find it is a lot more competitive squad than 2018. I am happy to leave it in that really good position for the qualifier in June.”