How Ballina coach created hockey history
BALLINA hockey product Sean Dancer has become part of history, coaching the Irish women’s hockey team to their first Olympic Games.
They are also the first women’s team from Ireland to qualify for an Olympics and will compete in Tokyo next year.
Ireland, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, defeated Canada in a dramatic two-game Olympic qualifying series in Donnybrook.
Both legs of the Olympic qualifiers ended 0-0 with Ireland advancing to Tokyo 2020 after winning a penalty shootout 4-3.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport and for everyone that is able attend certainly is an exciting challenge,” Dancer said.
“When coming into the role I was made very clear that it had been a major goal for the team and the (Ireland Hockey) federation to be able to get to the Olympics for the first time.
“Adding to this is it’s first ever women’s team sport that will attend, a great thrill for us and the whole country.
“Coming from a very sporting country it was hard to get my head around at first, but I’m certainly very proud now to be a part of what we have achieved so far.”
Dancer represented the Queensland Blades and Australian Under 21 sides when he left Ballina before playing and coaching in Belgium.
He helped the New Zealand women’s side win the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medal as the team’s assistant coach.
“Last year at the World Cup the Irish team played above and beyond getting to the final.” Dancer said.
“Unfortunately, the New Zealand team that I was involved with was eliminated in the quarter-final. I was certainly a fan watching Ireland progress after that.
“This (Ireland’s World Cup) result gave me a lot of confidence in the group coming into the role, including the ‘shootouts’ that the result eventually came down to.
“In general, the European style of play would be described as defensive. This was something I wanted to change, and what I feel most comfortable with as a coach.
“Not only was the playing group open to the change but have felt that it suits them better.
“We are very busy trying to lock in our calendar for 2020. It will involve a few camps and tournaments in Asia, ensuring that we experience very hot and humid conditions.
“Tokyo will be the hottest Olympics ever, and the team that handles it best will be hard to beat.
“We have a new base in Dublin with Sport Ireland, this has world class facilities that we will utilise for training on a weekly basis.”