Friday, May 7, 2010

Muller: centralisation to begin in October

* This article originally appeared on Southern Fried Hockey

Ireland senior women’s coach Gene Muller has confirmed plans to centralise the team to Dublin from this October will go ahead.

News of the Irish Hockey Association’s plans were revealed in February, and have drawn intense criticism from high-profile figures within the game. But Muller had not discussed the issue with the media, while the IHA insisted that the option was under consideration and had not been rubber-stamped.

However, Muller publicly revealed on Thursday night for the first time that he will press ahead with the move. An elite group of players will be based full-time in Dublin for 10 months, in a bid to secure qualification for the 2012 Olympics in London.

“We’re making some drastic changes, and looking at a central programme as of October, to increase our chances and make it a level playing field,” he told RTÉ Radio One on Thursday.

“We’ll be getting all of the players who live outside Dublin — or as many of them as possible — to relocate.

“We are expecting players to make fairly radical life changes with very little financial compensation. When you suggest something like this, there has to be buy-in from the team. The players realise there is an opportunity that might not present itself again in terms of having an Olympics so close to Ireland.

“They also know this is a team that’s starting to mature. It wasn’t really a difficult sell; it’s an opportunity that might only present itself once in a player’s career, so you train hard, you make sacrifices.

“It ends up that teams will often succeed or fail at the final hurdle. My thinking, and that of the team, is that increasing training frequency, time together and the physical demands of the team could be our final hurdle, and if we cross it, it might just be enough to get us to London.

When pressed by RTE’s Darragh Moloney whether he felt the plan would draw more criticism based on Ireland’s World Cup qualification failures in Chile, Muller intimated that it was necessary to challenge the status quo in hockey’s world order.

“It (centralisation) does eat up funding. But in terms of understanding the economics of it, we’ll effectively run a programme off a tenth of what England have. Your choice is to accept the disparity, or move to change it. Whereas countries like England can spend their way to an advantage, we rely on the energy of the players to make up the deficit.

He added: “There will always be many opinions regarding a team performance. We under-performed (in Chile) to the extent that we finished third going into a tournament in which we were seeded second.

“But if you look at it comparatively to what’s happening in other countries, the support for Irish sport would be lower than in other countries. The opinions will always be diverse, but if you spend too much time worrying about it, you might get a situation where it paralyses you.

“The one thing our programme has found is ways in which we can empower the team to go forward, and not to be too concerned by the detractors, of which there will always be many.”

Muller went on to praise the contribution of the sports councils on both sides of the border, as well as sponsors ESB, insisting that “they are interested and absorbed with the team’s process, and part of the drive for success is to see these people’s investment pay off”.

He also added that Ireland’s national side had more of a developmental role to play in its athletes’ careers, than might be the case in other countries.

“Hockey in Ireland, compared to other world nations, is fairly small. So the national team is essentially the vehicle for the development of players, its not just the vehicle for the expression of competence.

“In Holland or Australia, the provincial or club system might be good enough to develop a player so they can perform in the national setup. I think in Ireland it’s different, there is a strong development aspect to the programme.

“I think with our standing comparative to other teams, there really is no choice for us. We have to bank on a group of players, and hope to develop them to a point where we can beat teams who are often traditionally stronger than us.”

* To listen to the full Gene Muller interview, click here

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