Further recognition of Ireland’s ascension to world hockey’s top table came yesterday when Craig Fulton was named as the International Hockey Federation’s coach of the year.
Less than 24 hours after Green Machine captain David Harte was hailed as the world’s best goalkeeper, Ireland men’s coach Fulton followed him into the record books.
The South African, a double Olympian and 191 times-capped international as a player, guided Ireland to the Olympics for the first time in over 100 years in 2015 and masterminded the country’s first ever medal at an elite tournament, when they annexed bronze at the European championships last summer.
Fulton, whose nickname ‘Ned’ is an acronym for “never-ending dream”, said: “It’s an honour and privilege to accept this award from the FIH and from my fellow coaching peers, it is much appreciated. To my family and the brilliant Irish men’s staff and players, this is our award for an unforgettable 2015.”
Ireland’s achievements under Fulton are all the more creditable, given the low ebb the side was at when he took over in early 2014. Andrew Meredith’s 14-month reign had ended with many players frustrated and some senior squad members considering moving on, but Fulton’s appointment helped settle the side down.
Well regarded in Ireland from his successful time as a player and coach with Pembroke Wanderers and as assistant coach to David Passmore with the national side from 2006-09, Fulton is widely credited by his players for helping them mentally deal with the lingering disappointment of their failed 2012 Olympic qualification campaign.
Ireland, under another South African coach in Paul Revington, lost in the final seven seconds to Korea in the final of the 2012 qualification tournament, and despite being without numerous stalwarts of that era, Fulton has worked the oracle with the Green Machine.
Under his stewardship, Ireland have risen to 12th in the world and consistently out-performed higher-ranked teams at major tournaments. Pakistan and Malaysia were both beaten within two days of each other at World League 3 in Antwerp to ultimately secure Ireland’s place in Rio, while European bronze came after seeing off hosts Great Britain in the medal match in London.
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