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Ireland coach Sean Dancer goes back to Australia as training is halted

 

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Future bright: (from left) Anna O'Flanagan, Zoe Wilson, Roisin Upton and Katie Mullan in new Ireland kits

Future bright: (from left) Anna O'Flanagan, Zoe Wilson, Roisin Upton and Katie Mullan in new Ireland kits

Sean Dancer

Sean Dancer

�INPHO/Photosport/John Cowpland

Future bright: (from left) Anna O'Flanagan, Zoe Wilson, Roisin Upton and Katie Mullan in new Ireland kits

Ireland women's hockey coach Sean Dancer has flown back home to Australia to be with his family following the postponement of the Olympic Games until 2021.

However, there are no suggestions that the 44-year-old former New Zealand assistant coach won't be in charge in Tokyo next summer.

Dancer's contract will take him to the conclusion of the Olympics as was always the case.

But with the delay of the showpiece until July next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland's preparations will not start in earnest until early 2021.

So, in the meantime, Dancer, who is based in south Belfast, will spend an unspecified time with his loved ones Down Under as there is no need for him to be in Ireland right now.

It's likely that Ireland's build-up to Tokyo will roughly mirror the one that had been put in place in preparation for the Olympics as they were originally scheduled.

The 28-strong squad - including nine Ulster women - had been training on an individual basis until recently but that has now been put on hold although the players will obviously be keen to keep themselves ticking over in the interim.

The programme, which involved the squad concentrating purely on hockey training and playing matches for up to four days a week, has now been suspended.

This week, Ireland were due to have been playing China in a four-match series at Queen's University's Dub complex but those games were cancelled.

So too was a proposed warm-weather training camp in Durban last month which would have seen the national team playing eight matches, five against Japan, two against China and one against South Africa.

The squad were originally scheduled to visit Malaysia in the same time-slot but that venture became the first casualty of the pandemic.

The conditions in Kuala Lumpur would have been a perfect opportunity to replicate the heat and humidity that the players would have experienced in Tokyo.

Ireland were then due to travel to Spain for a week-long training stint in June but that, too, has obviously been called off.

Meanwhile, there was a boost for the players and Irish hockey in general with confirmation that SoftCo have extended their sponsorship of the women's team until the conclusion of the Olympics next year and beyond.

The Dublin-based global finance automation software provider have been loyal supporters of the Ireland women's team even before their rapid rise up the world rankings.

They began their financial backing shortly before the 2018 World Cup in London and were rewarded for their investment when the team sent shock waves through the hockey world with an unprecedented silver medal finish after reaching the final.

Their latest sponsorship deal will help provide financial backing for the players, who are now on part-time contracts which allow them to devote more time to the build-up for major tournaments.

Dancer said: "We really appreciate the continued backing from SoftCo especially during these unprecedented times. Their support and the support of others will allow us to prepare for the Olympics next year."

In addition to government funding from Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland, Ireland's women also receive backing from Dublin property firm Park Developments.

The current positive situation is a far cry from just four years ago when the players had to pay an annual levy of around £500 for the privilege of playing for their country.

Belfast Telegraph