Ireland men will compete in next season’s FIH Pro League against the world’s best after South Africa pulled out of the global league following promotion.
The International Hockey Federation said it was “just a matter of time” before South Africa would join the Pro League after they beat Ireland in the FIH Nations Cup final in November. However it will be Ireland who will now replace the side which finishes bottom of this season’s league after accepting an FIH invitation on Tuesday, while it will also serve to boost their world ranking given the current ploy by top teams to request non-capped games outside of Pro League.
Hockey Ireland CEO Ronan Murphy said: “This announcement comes at a very exciting time for Irish Hockey, as we look to grow participation in the game and compete at the highest level on the international stage.
“The fact that our senior men are now competing in World Hockey’s Pro League against eight top Hockey teams from around the world is a testament to all the hard work to date and is aligned with our high-performance strategy and objectives”.
Mark Tumilty, Ireland men’s coach, said that playing the sport’s top teams represents a “big opportunity” as the Green Machine aim for EuroHockey A Division hockey as well as a place at Paris 2024.
He said: “It’s a massive challenge for us but I’ve said many times before that for Ireland to move forward in world hockey we need to be playing competitive games against the top nations. To have the chance now to play 16 games against the top countries in the world will give our programme added purpose and focus.”
The FIH said on Tuesday that South Africa still holds a desire to join the Pro League “as soon as possible”, while it wasn’t clear whether their decision was down to the finances needed to play or host Pro League teams.
The FIH said: “Whilst we will miss South Africa in the next season, we know that the South African Hockey Association firmly intends to join the FIH Hockey Pro League as soon as possible. Therefore, this is just a matter of time. Meanwhile, we’re absolutely delighted to welcome the Irish men’s team and we can’t wait to see them perform in the League next season.”
The South Africa Hockey Association was “extremely saddened” to pull out.
“As a federation we will forever be grateful for the opportunity afforded to us to participate at that level. It will be sorely missed especially as it would have assisted our team with their preparation for Paris 2024. We wish Hockey Ireland and all the other teams all the very best,” said SAHA interim CEO Shaune Baaitjies.
Ireland will host Division 2 of the EuroHockey Championships in July at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown, looking to claim a place in the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments for Paris 2024.
The 2023-2024 Pro League season will likely get underway in October.
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