Craig Fulton has expressed frustration that little movement has been made to support Irish athletes – both from hockey and beyond – who work full-time in addition to representing their country.
His Irish men’s team are embarking on a hectic 10-month preparation plan, building to November’s World Cup, starting with a training camp in Spain next week.
But the coach says that he will face a balancing act to get the maximum from his players in between work commitments.
It follows frustration with a lack of follow-through from positive talks with the then Minister for State for Sport Patrick O’Donovan at the back end of 2016.
The Minister engaged with a number of sports organisations regarding proposals for tax breaks to companies who support international athletes who work full-time to make things work for each side.
But, since O’Donovan’s move to finance, Fulton says that there has been little to no progression.
“You have really positive conversations and you hope the right outcome for you, specifically, in a big pool of Irish and minority sports,” he said. “For whatever reason, there was less funding given. The men and the women getting to World Cups seem to have been pushed to the sideline for the mainline sports that are on tv all the time.”
As such, the experienced players in his panel have to plan their holiday days accordingly while numerous stars – like Mitch Darling, Kirk Shimmins and Ronan Gormley among others – took breaks at different times in 2017. It means Fulton must chop and change his squad.
“We have to pace ourselves and be smart about what senior players can and can’t do, what leave they can take.” It’s a far from ideal situation for the coach preparing for a tournament where all bar a couple of other nations are full-time professional outfits.
Next week’s Spanish camp will see Ireland play Canada, Scotland, Spain and USA. Later in February, the side will play in the “perfect tournament” in Malaysia, taking on world numbers one Australia and England – both group opponents at the World Cup – along with India and the Olympic champions Argentina. Domestically, the men’s EY Hockey League has its first outing of the year with Glenanne and Three Rock Rovers set for a battle royale in Dublin.
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