THE Irish Hockey Association yesterday gave the green light to controversial plans to centralise the women’s senior hockey team in Dublin for 10 months.
The IHA board has given approval to a Central Preparation Programme (CPP), which the national body say will “facilitate a core, intensive preparation program” in a bid to qualify for the Olympics in London in 2010.
Senior women’s coach Gene Muller envisages that 20 of the 25 players currently selected for the Irish panel will be in a position to be located in Dublin for the initial time period.
Those unable to make the move will continue training at a local level in midweek and join the full squad for Sunday and Monday training sessions.
Heated debate over the merits of the program has been ongoing since news of the plan broke. The concept has drawn criticism from high-profile figures in the game, who have condemned it as impractical and fear ruinous consequences for club hockey.
An IHA spokesperson yesterday said Muller will write to clubs next week to outline the plan in detail, and stressed that no pressure will be placed on players to move to Dublin clubs.
Players selected to take part in the CPP will continue to compete for their clubs as the weekly schedule makes provisions for weekend club hockey – except for scheduled breaks or international events – while also enabling players to prepare midweek with their clubs for ESB Irish Senior Cup and Irish Hockey League matches.
Muller also has provision to invite additional athletes into the programme.
“(The CPP) will enable the majority of players to train together on a regular basis in one location,” the IHA said in a statement. “It will help address critical technical and tactical weaknesses, and facilitate more intense, frequent and higher quality training sessions.
“A programme of this nature makes the periodisation of the Irish training and competition programme feasible. Under the previous system it was difficult to control training variables to develop and peak the team.”
Muller yesterday termed the plan “a significant move forward”, and said their training environment will be in line with many of the top international teams as a result.
“The main aim is to improve our chances of international success,” he added. “This plan cannot work without player buy-in, and our players have been fantastic in endorsing and driving this process.”
To qualify for the Olympics, Ireland must either finish fourth at the preceding European championships in 2011, or enter into a winner-takes-all qualification group.
The former is the preferable route, but the jump from fifth – where Ireland finished at the 2009 Euros in Amsterdam – to fourth is a significant leap in standards, which has thus far proved beyond Muller’s troops.
Current Irish skipper Eimear Cregan therefore believes that centralisation is a key step if the side is to have a shot at reaching the Olympics.
“I have no doubt this will maximise our potential as a team, as well as providing us with a fantastic opportunity to qualify for the Olympics,” said the Limerick native.
“I am also pleased that the IHA has been able to accommodate those who are unable to centralise due to their work commitments.”
The core Irish panel likely to be involved in the new setup is likely to be announced after the series with Scotland at the end of this month.
The women’s budget that incorporates the CPP will be allocated in line with previous year’s budgets, funded through Irish Sports Council, Sport Northern Ireland and sponsors ESB, who have all backed the venture, along with the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland and the Irish Institute of Sport.
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