New boss Darren Smith has hard job on his hands

Newly appointed Ireland women’s hockey coach Darren Smith may have his work cut out as he prepares his bid to steer the team into the next world cup finals starting with the World League II series in the New Year.

Kiwi Smith was appointed to replace Dennis Pritchard who succeeded Gene Muller after the latter’s resignation.

The South African stepped down after Ireland had failed to book their tickets to the Olympics.

Smith takes over the post after six years as assistant coach to the New Zealand Men’s team who recently finished ninth at London 2012.

But he could find a reduction in the budget he has to work with ahead of the world cup qualifying bid.

Using the world rankings as a guideline, Ireland will have at least two other tournaments to attend over and above the first phase of the world cup qualifiers and money is clearly too tight to mention these days in Irish hockey circles.

That was plainly evident from the fact the Irish Hockey Association eventually admitted that a lack of finance was the root cause of the governing body’s decision not to send the men’s team to the Champions Challenge series currently being staged in Argentina.

The decision was, of course, reversed but only due to the generosity of hockey followers and businesses who effectively baled the IHA out allowing the trip to proceed.

If as they are seeded to do Ireland make it through the first phase in Spain they will then have the second stage along with the European Nations’ Cup - for which they have already qualified - to attend in 2013.

So, financially, it doesn’t augur well for the women although they at least have a generous sponsor in Electric Ireland who contribute towards the cost of running the national teams across the various age levels.

But with both Sport NI and the Irish Sports Council having smaller budgets now it will be interesting to see if the IHA receive all they will be asking for over the coming weeks when the governing body submits it’s bid for a share of the pot.

Looking at the events of the Muller era it must go down as a failure judging by the IHA’s self-styled objective of Olympic qualification.

When the South African was appointed in 2006 as successor to Riet Kuper the then IHA Chief Executive Paul Varian went on the record as stating that Olympic qualification was ‘non-negotiable.’

It didn’t happen after a disappointing defeat by host team Belgium in the summer when Ireland had their best-ever chance of reaching an Olympics.

By definition the notion of ‘Centralisation’ whereby the players were based in Dublin for almost a year in the build up to the Belgian tournament was also a failure.

The concept didn’t suit some players, most notably Ballymoney’s Bridget McKeever who was unable to sacrifice her teaching job for the cause of hockey.

The IHA spent a huge amount of money on the venture and the build up to Belgium but while it would be unfair to suggest it was a total waste of that money, the investment simply didn’t pay off.

Muller did have his critics and some would say his unwillingness - perhaps based around financial concerns which might have tied his hands - to actively support the idea of an Under 21 international team was a mistake.

Players of that age-group were on occasions thrust straight into the senior set-up without the pathway utilised by most other ‘developed’ hockey-playing nations in Europe.

That issue has now been resolved with the return to international competition of the Ireland U21 squad which is now ranked in the second tier of Europe.

So all things considered there are many challenges that lie ahead both for the new national coach and the IHA both on and off the pitch as Ireland bid to play on the other big stage in world hockey having failed to make it to London 2012.