IRELAND’S top women’s hockey players could be in line for a centralisation move that would see them based full-time in Dublin this September, it emerged yesterday.
Irish coach Gene Muller has confirmed he is considering a proposal in a bid to secure Olympic qualification in 2012, a plan which could put him and the Irish Hockey Association (IHA) on a collision course with clubs in Munster and Ulster in particular.
Muller wants his elite players at his disposal in the run-up to the 2011 European Championships, knowing that a top-four place would secure automatic Olympic qualification.
Ireland matched their best-ever finish in the 2009 event, finishing fifth, although heavy losses to Germany and Spain suggested they still have plenty of ground to make up on the bigger nations to gatecrash the top four.
Under the plan, a squad of around 20 players, drawn from Munster, Leinster and Ulster, would base themselves full-time in Dublin for a year, partaking in nine training sessions a week.
“We need the squad to train together for a year before the European Championships,” Muller told the Belfast News Letter. “We must increase our training frequency, volume and standard to give us a real chance.
“We have to create an environment where players will want to centralise.
“We must give them informed choices, help them with study, work and accommodation. This must be managed logistically. And it will only happen if there is buy-in from the players – they are the primary stakeholders in all of this. There will be quality players it does not suit and there is no way I would exclude them from consideration for selection.”
A number of questions remain over the plan, which an IHA spokesperson yesterday stressed is one of a number of moves under consideration.
The potential impact on the working, academic and personal lives of any players who move to Dublin is one such worry.
It is not yet clear whether the players would all play their club hockey for Leinster outfits – or whether they will play at club level at all next season.
Either move could spark negative reactions at club level, with clubs hardly likely to be enthralled at the prospect of losing their top players.
Such a scenario could alter the balance of power in domestic competitions, and the Irish Hockey League in particular.
Senior figures in Munster and Ulster yesterday privately queried the plans, noting that while no player will be forced to move to Dublin, any who wishes to stay put would be at a natural disadvantage.
From a Munster perspective, any such move would affect four players – Irish captain Eimear Cregan, who last week moved to Catholic Institute from Cork Harlequins, her former Quins team-mate Cliodhna Sargent and UCC duo Audrey O’Flynn and Julia O’Halloran.
Nonetheless, Muller noted five of the world’s top 10 countries partake in some centralisation and contends it must be given serious thought. “Centralisation is not an entirely new concept – players have spent extended time together in the past,” he said.
“I believe we have a rare opportunity to get Ireland into the Olympics. That will improve the game for everyone and bring more funding to the sport.
“We have to do something unprecedented and I am seriously considering centralisation as the way forward.”
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