Tears of joy as Ireland's hockey World Cup exploits rewarded with cash boost
Ireland captain Katie Mullan burst into tears yesterday when it was announced that her team is to receive additional funding to help them prepare for their Olympic qualification bid.
The announcement came on the back of Ireland's remarkable performance at the World Cup in London, where they surpassed all expectations.
Ireland went into the tournament ranked second last but finished runners-up, returning home yesterday to a civic reception wearing silver medals round their necks following their loss to the Netherlands in the final.
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Before the players headed to Dublin city centre for the bash, hosted by the Lord Mayor, Irish sports minister Shane Ross revealed after the squad's arrival at the airport that their achievement is to be rewarded with increased funding as they prepare for the Olympic qualifying cycle ahead of Tokyo 2020.
Mr Ross revealed that hockey in general will benefit from a "significant share" of an additional £1.34m funding for Olympic sports, without going into precise details of the amount.
"You have won that sort of financial recognition," he told them. "I have decided that we will give an additional €1.5m (£1.34m) for Olympic and World Championship preparation and hockey will enjoy a significant share of that.
"We look forward to you going to the Olympics and on to even greater things. Today is a day for celebration and for thanks to you."
Before yesterday's announcement, Sport Ireland's total funding for Irish hockey - both men and women - was set to be around £820,000 in 2018.
In comparison, Great Britain are receiving £17.6million in the four-year Olympic cycle, which culminates in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Clearly shocked but delighted at the announcement, the players burst into spontaneous applause.
But Mullan - one of six Ulster players in the Green Army squad - and several others simply couldn't hold back their emotions after hearing the news.
The 24-year-old Coleraine woman was overjoyed at news of the additional funding, which will obviously assist Ireland's cause as they bid to qualify for an Olympic Games for the first time.
Mullan said: "Receiving additional resources is something that is really important if we want to progress Irish hockey.
"I said after the final on Sunday that we couldn't just go to London and do something special, and then in a few months let things drop off, so this is great news.
"At the moment, the resources that we have are not available 12 months a year in terms of our support staff and the facilities.
"Obviously, on the back of our World Cup adventure, we have made people sit up and take notice.
"And I was in no doubt that we would get the support we deserve and now it's happened.
"Going forward, this has all been amazing but we also have to remain very grounded and realise that we have to put in a big shift over the next year if we are to qualify for Tokyo."
National coach Graham Shaw also welcomed the news and gave some indication as to where the cash boost might be best channelled.
He said: "I think the challenge lies in how often we can get the group together.
"That's the big problem we always face. When they're based all around Ireland, it's very, very difficult to get them together. Then when we do get them together, we're trying to rent pitches.
"We end up scattered around as a senior squad, Under-21s squad, Under-18s squad. We need to be training together because these girls who have just come back from London are now huge role models for the under-age teams.
"We went on this journey as part of a four-year cycle. We looked first at the World Cup. We came to London and won a silver medal which is a huge achievement.
"We're not aiming to just compete or make up the numbers in Tokyo when we qualify, and we're aiming to achieve the best finish we possibly can."
It's the men's turn to take part in their World Cup campaign in India in November, and the girls have set a benchmark which will be difficult to follow.
However, now that additional funding is to be secured for the team, and the new coach in Dutchman Alexander Cox has also been appointed, they'll be out to make a big impact in their campaign too.