For a minority sport hockey has made its mark in Ireland this year. The heroics of the men’s team at the 2016 Rio Olympics has inspired a new generation of hockey players, both male and female, throughout the country.
While Dublin and Cork have always been the twin capitals of hockey in Ireland the real growth of the sport can be seen in the regions, and nowhere is this more evident than in Waterford.
The opening of a new ‘Tiger Turf’ hockey pitch at Newtown School Waterford is set to become the launching pad for this new generation of internationals and Olympians.
Newtown School Waterford has been the home for hockey in Waterford for generations. National sports stars of other codes, Nick Popplewell (Irish and Lions rugby), Niall Tuohy (Athletics)and Jamie Deacon (Rugby) all represented their country in hockey while attending Newtown School Waterford.
But this investment is all due to one grandfather’s ambition.
Roger Johnson, former vice principal of Newtown School was selected for Ireland in hockey in 1958, his son Craig also represented Ireland in 1985. So when his grandson Ben was named on the Irish under 16 squad for a European Championships in Antwerp last summer, Roger knew something had to be done about the twenty-year-old Newtown pitch Ben learned his sport and honed his skills on.
The old AstroTurf, despite serving Newtown and Waterford hockey club well since 1997, was past its best and even a detriment to the progress of the young players.
Roger proceeded to approach a number of former ‘friends’ of Newtown School Waterford, at home and abroad and within a couple of months managed to raise over €200,000. This led to comprehensive research of the best pitches in the country and the decision to opt for a ‘Tiger Turf’ pitch.
Roger has been stunned by the speed of progress, “For what was just an idea in April, now at the end of September, we have a new pitch for future generations in Newtown and Waterford. While the primary motivation for the pitch was personal, it will also give all the boys and girls of Newtown and Waterford hockey club a real chance to learn the sport on an equal footing with the players who have access to the best facilities in the country”.
Another inspirational character agreed to officially open the pitch, Craig Fulton, Irish men’s Olympic coach and international coach of the year 2015 made time in his busy schedule to give the pitch his blessing and launch its future.
Hopefully his presence will inspire the next generation of internationals as much as it does the present crop.