Women's qualifiers could take Irish game to another level
Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels believes the women's Olympic qualifiers can provide a "legacy moment" for the sport as he looks forward to their big November dates with Canada in Energia Park in Donnybrook.
The governing body confirmed their ambitious plans to drop-in a Polytan pitch at the venue for the double-header on November 2nd and 3rd, working together with Leinster Rugby and England Hockey to run the project.
The move will significantly increase potential capacity to 6,500. Had the matches been played in Belfield, the maximum audience would have been in the 1,500 range while Banbridge's temporarily erected stadium for the Hockey Series Finals in the summer housed just 1,200.
Following last summer's World Cup silver medal, however, Pels said the time is right to be ambitious and he believes that, while costly, the increased capacity and hospitality options mean the plan should break-even.
"It's a unique set of circumstances which justifies the plan," he said. "We know how many came to welcome the side home [on Dame Street] from the World Cup, something we never expected - 10,000 to see the team who were not even playing. It's a unique moment when the side are at this elite level and have that home Olympic qualifier in this simple format.
"Everything tells us there is interest; the phone hasn't stopped ringing since the draw was announced, people asking where they can buy tickets!"
It is estimated the pitch will take three to four days to lay, employing a system successfully pioneered by England Hockey for Pro League games earlier this year at the Twickenham Stoop.
Hockey Ireland is effectively leasing that pitch and renting Energia Park from Leinster Rugby, who are keen to see their venue showcase its suitability for hosting other sports.
The total cost, Pels estimates, will come in a decent chunk under the €250,000 mark quoted elsewhere. When compared to the €100,000 spent to build the venue at Banbridge, Pels says the extra ticket sales offer an opportunity to recoup the outlay and create a memorable atmosphere for the team to propel the women to a first-ever Olympic appearance.
Megan Frazer was also in attendance at the announcement and says the opportunity gives her an extra motivation to get back into action after a string of setbacks.
"The atmosphere, the whole environment is going to be amazing," she said. "To have it in the capital, more central, I would be optimistic we would fill the place."