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Major step forward for Ireland as new sponsor introduces player bursaries

The long-term investment will provide financial support for 23 players between now and the end of the Tokyo 2020 qualification process.

IN A SIGNIFICANT and timely boost for Ireland ahead of the start of their Olympic qualification process, 23 of the women’s national hockey team will receive financial support between now and the end of the Tokyo campaign. 

A new four-year sponsorship deal with Park Developments was today announced by Hockey Ireland, just three weeks out from the start of Ireland’s FIH Series tournament in Banbridge. 

Park Developments Irish Women Hockey PlayersÕ Bursary Scheme New head coach Sean Dancer (far left) was at today's sponsorship announcement. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The bursary will allow 23 of the senior women’s squad to move closer to full-time status, and is a seismic move forward for the high-performance programme as they bid to qualify for the 2020 Games. 

The investment from Park Developments, which is guaranteed for at least four years, will support Hockey Ireland in addition to the funding received from Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and primary shirt sponsor Softco. 

On the back of last year’s World Cup silver medal, Hockey Ireland was allocated €500,000 in high-performance funding from Sport Ireland, in addition to the €1,055,000 core funding the organisation received for 2019.

Of that figure, €100,000 was for direct player support. 

“Last summer’s World Cup was definitely the highlight of my playing career to date.,” Anna O’Flanagan said. “Having played for Ireland on 180 occasions, it was the culmination of years of training and competitive experience balanced with study, professional qualification and full-time employment.

“The reality is that competing with the world’s best requires a level of commitment that makes full-time employment virtually impossible.

The Park Developments Player Bursary is therefore a very welcome support in addition to the funding Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland have provided over the years to us as a team and will facilitate more training time that is a necessity to give ourselves the best chance of securing our goal of qualifying for and competing at the Olympic Games.

Following the departure of head coach Graham Shaw over the winter, new boss Sean Dancer — previously an assistant with the New Zealand Black Sticks — arrived in Ireland last week and was present for today’s announcement.

While he has now formally met his new players, Dancer will not officially take charge of the team for the upcoming FIH tournament, with Gareth Grundie leading the programme for next month’s campaign.

The squad held a two-day training camp in Banbridge over the weekend and will have another intensive week of preparations before the final squad is confirmed on 31 May. 

Ireland open their campaign against Malaysia on 8 June before further Group A games against Czech Republic and Singapore, with the two tournament finalists advancing through to a further Olympic qualifier in November.

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Ryan Bailey

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