A rugby stadium, an Englishwoman and dreaming big

5th December 2019

How England Hockey’s Sue Catton was pivotal in supporting a number of record-breaking achievements for Hockey Ireland.

“I remember the moment well” mused Inez Cooper, Chairperson of the Local Organising Committee for the Irish women’s Olympic Qualifier and who had the vision to bring Big Stadium Hockey and the temporary pitch to Ireland. “October 2018, the then CEO of England Hockey, Sally Munday, a visionary in our sport, announced its innovative plan to play some of England’s ProLeague games in The Stoop, London (home of Harlequins Rugby), and I just knew that this could be a solution for Ireland. At that time, we didn’t even have a National Hockey training venue.  I remember saying to whoever would listen – imagine if we could do this in Dublin and fill an existing stadium to capacity with a green cheering crowd – it would be like the World Cup again, but at home! We sounded out Leinster Rugby who were warm to the idea and said to come back if everything fell in place over the summer”.

When Hockey Ireland had it confirmed by the FIH that the Irish women’s qualifiers would be in Ireland, Inez just knew that this could be a game-changing moment for hockey in Ireland. The recent experience of a successful FIH Series Finals in Banbridge had shown the appetite of Irish fans to support their team.

When the Irish national broadcaster (RTE) confirmed both matches would be aired live with the condition it must be a Dublin venue, the pressure was on.

With limited venue options available, how could we with Hockey Ireland’s small team manage the competing challenges around the costs of presenting an Olympic Qualifier for TV level viewing, while at the same time maximising home team advantage with a large and noisy crowd?

“After talking to Sue Catton about The Stoop and hearing how England Hockey and their partners intended to package and provide full support to any Federation who wished to achieve a Big Stadium Hockey event, we gained confidence and comfort that we would be in safe hands if we could find the right venue and make the business case work”.

“Leinster Rugby confirmed its  interest and with Sue Catton leading the pitch manufacturers, accredited pitch testing company and the FIH Facilities Manager, we created a small test area in Energia Park in early August which successfully passed FIH tests for a temporary pitch and then later we had confirmation from the laboratory that the same configuration had no impact on the underlying 3G carpet after 11 days simulation”.

Big Stadium Hockey was now a contender in the Feasibility Assessment and Business Case Comparison and it won out as the chosen venue by Hockey Ireland Board. While high risk, it was also highest reward, given the venue capacity potential to cover the higher costs.

With every dream there comes the reality – we need to build a pitch in a few days!

Inez continued “We talk a lot in hockey about our value system and about the hockey family, and not for the first time in my life I realised that these values and the hockey family are indeed real tangible pillars of our sport. We looked to our friends in England Hockey, who had the experience from The Stoop, and to say that they ‘stepped up’ is such an understatement. The most important thing that they did for us was ‘gift’ us the unsung hero of Sue Catton. Sue is the leading expert in England Hockey’s events team, having delivered the London Olympic Games, a EuroHockey Championships, an FIH  World Cup and now is a part of the Big Stadium Hockey team. Not only did she direct us on everything to do with the installation of the pitch, but she also gave Joan (Morgan) and me so much advice and guidance around everything to do with sports presentation.”

Sue arrived on Irish soil 10 days before the event to manage all the pitch deliveries, high visibility jacket already on and her detailed plan at the ready. The callout to the Hockey Ireland clubs provided much-needed volunteer labour (in exchange for sandwiches and cups of tea from Energia), but with Sue’s endless energy and incredible good humour, the base, shock pad and carpet was laid in 3 days and ready for play in 4. (click here for timelapse video of the pitch being laid)

Sue discovered, much to her delight, that in Ireland, there are not 7 degrees of separation, but about 2. “Oh my cousin has that, or my neighbour or I know a guy, who knows a guy” was the daily chat when anything was needed to get the job done. Including the leading fireman for the pitch watering, who ended up being former Irish International Joe Brennan, who’s sister worked for the EHF for 10 years… In Ireland, it really is a small world.

Besides the Irish women’s team making history by being the first Irish women’s team sport to ever qualify for the Olympics, Hockey Ireland also broke the Irish record for the largest attendance at an international women team sport event – twice, with Sunday attendance of 6,186!

EHF President, Marijke Fleuren was truly delighted to attend the second game on Sunday evening and be a part of history “For me, it was such a pleasure to be there the moment the Irish women qualified for the Olympics. But I have to say that the magic on the field was matched by the perfect delivery of the temporary stadium and what they have achieved with their small team. For me, the concept of sharing knowledge is fundamental to the growth and strength of hockey in Europe. We see it with our twinning programmes and with our mentors for our education programmes. What is the point of developing a bank of knowledge if you aren’t willing to share it, in this case, with your closest neighbour.”

She added  “The use of temporary pitches is a complete game-changer for our sport. As Sue and her team (Big Stadium Hockey) develop and learn, there is no reason why many Federations will not now consider hosting events in stadiums that aren’t hockey specific. I for one am very much looking forward to seeing where this vision can go.”

Inez concluded “All of us involved in Hockey Ireland are grateful to England Hockey and Sue Catton for their inspiration, friendship and support throughout this intense 10 weeks and for playing a part in bringing hockey as headline news in Ireland with a first-ever women’s Olympic place, the excitement of shootouts and record-breaking crowds! I feel that this adventure of temporary pitches in bigger stadiums has just begun for hockey and it’s fantastic that we have been a part of it.”

 

 

 

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