Smith offers Munster backing

Irish senior women’s coach Darren Smith says he is willing to support high performance hockey in Munster — but that the drive must come from within the province.

Munster has been struggling with a dwindling international representation on both the men’s and women’s national teams in recent years, with no regional training programme in place for those with designs on an Irish jersey.

Smith, who took over in January, reduced the Munster representation in the Irish women’s panel to just two — Audrey O’Flynn and Naomi Carroll — earlier this year, dropping the experienced Cliodhna Sargent, Áine Connery, Sinead McCarthy and Miriam Crowley.

But the New Zealander took his charges to UCC last week for a training camp and says if a regional high performance training programme is put in place, he will support it.

“There’s some good, smart people in Munster, and between the province itself and Irish hockey we can help build it up again to produce the kind of players it has had in the past,” he said.

“I think it’s important there’s an internal drive to make it sustainable so it sits in place forever.

“For me to make an impact in Munster, I need a high performance structure here to work off. If I’m trying to set that structure up while trying to push the national team, probably it’ll be a very thin structure aimed at a couple of players, and it’ll be done with minimal time because I have to keep my eye on the ball here.

“But if there’s a nice little structure sitting in the region, I know I can add value to that. I would certainly be down here on a regular basis working in such a structure, but it’s a hard one for me to set up.”

Smith, who yesterday named an 18-strong squad for next month’s EuroHockey Nations Championships in Belgium, said he hoped the players left off the panel would bounce back.

“The girls were surprised, yeah,” he said. “They’re all proud, good people and I didn’t enjoy letting them know we’re not going to have them with us.

“But I was also hopeful the feedback they got from me is that the door isn’t closed. Those girls are talented, we’ve given someone else a go for this summer but I’m hopeful they’ll come back stronger and we see them back in an Irish jersey, playing really well.”

Smith also outlined his blueprint for the coming years moving away from the centralised programme favoured by his predecessor Gene Muller. He instead would like to see the Irish Hockey League expanded into two blocks — nominally, November and March/April — with players released for the entirety of those periods.

“Club hockey also plays a hugely important role, those players become the leader in their club and they filter the information from the national programme downwards.”

For the upcoming Europeans, Smith has made seven changes to the panel that endured a torrid time at the World League 2 in February. The aforementioned Sargent, Connery and McCarthy make up three of those while Michelle Harvey, Pamela Smithwick, Nikki Evans and Katie Mullan also miss out this time around.

IRELAND senior women’s squad for EuroHockey Nations Championships, Belgium, August 17-25, Belgium: N Atcheler (UCD), N Carroll (Catholic Institute), L Colvin (Loreto), N Daly (Loreto), M Frazer (Ballymoney), E Gray (GK, Hermes), N Gray (UCD), L Jacob (Hermes), S McCay (Old Alex), A O’Flanagan (UCD), G O’Flanagan (GK, Railway Union), A O’Flynn (Hermes), G Pinder (Hermes), N Small (Loreto), E Smyth (Railway Union, vice capt), A Speers (Railway Union, capt), N Symmons (Loreto), C Watkins (UCD).


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