Thousands turn out to welcome the team
By Colin Gannon
Shortly before thousands of fans gave Ireland’s women’s hockey team a heroes welcome at Dublin Airport and then in Dublin city centre following their World Cup exploits, Shane Ross, Ireland’s Minister for Tourism and Sports, announced that Irish hockey is to benefit from the windfall of an additional 1.5 million in funding.
Against all odds, the team – wholly comprised of amateur players, making them the second lowest-ranking side in the competition – fought their way to a historic World Cup final, which took place in London last week.
They suffered a 6-0 loss in the final to the Netherlands, the world number ones, who retained their title, but it was the Ireland side who stole the headlines, their unprecedented journey from tournament minnows to runners-up capturing the imagination of the Irish public.
In a press conference at Dublin Airport, standing at a podium in front of the team upon their arrival, Mr Ross made a special announcement in light of the team’s success.
“Because of the timing of what you’ve done, I’ve decided that [the Irish government] will give an extra 1.5 million for Olympic and world champion preparation,” said Ross.
The players’ faces visibly emotional as they learned of the news.
“And hockey will enjoy a significant share of that particular funding.”
This comes after reports during the tournament – which have since been rejected by John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland – that players on the international women’s squad are asked to pay a levy of 550 a year to supplement their funding.
Mr Tracey has said that the women did not have to pay such a levy and that it had been discontinued following the 2016 Rio Olympics. This year, Irish Hockey received 530,000 from the national high-performance unit, a 10,000 increase on last year.
However, some criticism has been levelled at Mr Ross and the current government about the financial support that is given to athletes, such as the hockey players who exceeded all expectations. It’s reported that the Irish government plans to increase sports funding twofold over the next decade – from 110 million to 220 million – but overall high-performance funding has not increased since 2007.
The Irish team’s homecoming saw the side make their way from the airport to Dame Street, where Dublin City Council had arranged a civic reception for 3pm in the afternoon, with public access open from 2pm.
Nial Ring, Lord Mayor of Dublin, was the first to ceremoniously greet the team. Thousands flocked in a sea of green to meet Ireland’s newest sporting heroes on a sun-drenched Monday afternoon.
In emotional scenes, the players led the crowds in chants and song atop a stage.
President Michael D. Higgins led the tributes to the team, congratulating them on their “fantastic accomplishment”.
“I wish to offer my warmest congratulations to the Irish women’s hockey team on their historic achievement of winning the silver medal at the World Cup,” the President said in a statement.
“To reach the final was a fantastic accomplishment and to do so with such skill, dedication and team spirit is truly inspirational.”
Higgins went on to put into the context what they had achieved: “This team has broken new ground for Irish hockey and Irish sport and their momentous achievement will encourage young women and men all around the island of Ireland to take up sport.”
The enormity of this achievement, and the national mood of positivity it evoked, perhaps mark a new era in Irish hockey and high-performance sports.