Graham Shaw happy Ireland and New Zealand won’t meet in Tokyo qualifiers

‘If we were to play each other the exit would have been more difficult’

Graham Shaw says although the timing is not perfect that he could not turn down a once in a lifetime opportunity to coach the New Zealand women’s team. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Graham Shaw, who resigned this week as coach of the Irish women's hockey team to take up a head coaching position with New Zealand women's hockey, will not coach his new team against Ireland in the near future.

The earliest opportunity that the two teams could meet is if they both qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, a process Ireland begin this summer. It was a conversation the former international player had with Hockey Ireland before he resigned. The Irish women have never qualified for an Olympic Games, while New Zealand, currently ranked sixth in the world, played in Rio.

After four years in charge, Shaw became a target for other nations after last year’s World Cup in London, where the Irish team won a silver medal for the first time in history.

“It’s impossible to play Ireland in the Tokyo qualifications,” said Shaw. “The rankings are too close. Hockey Ireland would have looked at that. I’ve had that conversation and if we were to play each other the exit would have been more difficult based around the contract.


“The only time we might meet each other would be in the Tokyo Games. Then you are talking another two and a half years down the road before another World Cup qualification. But we don’t even know how that qualification is going to be set up by the FIH. I did consider it and I talked it through with Hockey Ireland. But it’s not going to happen.”

The 39-year-old, who was capped 151 times for Ireland, agrees that the timing of the departure is poor but beyond his control with an Olympic qualifying tournament and European Championships coming up this summer. The first of the Olympic qualifiers begins in Dublin on June 8th against Malaysia.

But, he says, it was a once in a lifetime career opportunity that arose and was impossible to turn down, adding that the decision had nothing to do with Hockey Ireland, lack of funding or direction.

“That’s why I say I’m leaving with a heavy heart because I understand the timing of it isn’t ideal,” he said. “The closing date was the 5th February. This role has had a coach in place for the last 10 years so if you don’t go for it now . . . It’s just unfortunate where it fell in the year with regard to the Irish women’s team. I had to put my family first.”

Shaw says he hopes that one day, with more experience and knowledge, he might coach the Irish team again and after nine years in the system, some staleness might have been creeping in. He said he didn’t speak to the players directly until this week because there was no certainty he would get the New Zealand job.

“I didn’t speak to them before the whole process because I didn’t want to upset the whole environment before going through the interview process,” he said.

“Because if you don’t get it you’ve just told people for no reason. That might be selfish but it’s something I thought was the right thing to do.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times