Ronan Gormley has formally retired from international hockey, bringing to an end one of the most influential careers on Ireland’s journey to the world’s top ten.
He was the first Irish player to reach the 250-cap mark in 2016 – ending with 256 in total – and captained the side 121 times but, if possible, his importance to the sport went far beyond just playing for the Green Machine.
The teak-tough defender, now 35, was a central figure in pushing the boundaries off the field, working tirelessly to push the envelope with the Irish Hockey Association – now Hockey Ireland – on behalf of the team to secure top class coaches and greater funding.
It is something he made a nod to in his retirement message: “We have battled for everything we have achieved, on and off the pitch. The more we continue to achieve, the more funding and support we need. Please keep taking note.”
Originally born in Ireland, he subsequently moved to England before returning to live in Clonskeagh in his mid-teens where he played in Sandford Park in Ranelagh – helping them win the school’s only Leinster senior league title in in the past 40 years.
At Pembroke, he won everything in the game, including a quadruple in the 2008/09 season while he also helped Spanish-side Madrid reach the final of the Euro Hockey League in 2011.
With Ireland, he made his debut in 2004 in a 6-2 loss to India at a time when Ireland were ranked outside the world’s top 20. During his time, the side embarked on a remarkable rise, culminating in European bronze in 2015 and a first Olympic qualification for over a century in 2016.
Looking back on his career, he felt it was an element of fortune paved the path.
“To some extent, there is a lot of luck in sport and I was lucky to be playing during a time of immense talent in Irish hockey. Not only that, but those involved went above and beyond to do things no one expected of them and achieved things most said they couldn’t.”
He hailed coaches for pushing the agenda in an era when hockey has undergone a seismic shift toward professionalisation with Dave Passmore starting the ball rolling to raise standards with Paul Revington carrying on the progression.
Gormley – along with his father Frank – was a key figure in bringing Craig Fulton to Ireland in the first place at club level with Pembroke, something which led to the South African’s stellar time as national coach, finally reaching the Holy Grail.
While he has many playing highlights, Gormley did pick out playing in the 2012 Champions Challenge as “one never to be forgotten”. Hockey Ireland had withdrawn the national side from the competition only for the Irish public to raise €65,000 within a week to fund their journey to Argentina; their support was rewarded by a bronze medal.
Team mates were quick to pay tribute to his impact with Andy McConnell describing him as “without doubt the greatest leader I was lucky to share a pitch with, an inspirational to all and somebody who changed Irish hockey forever”.
David Harte added: “Leader, team mate, friend and legend. Thank you for your incredible service and all you did for me personally. Inspired a generation and leaving behind a legacy”.
His formal retirement was not overly surprising. He last played in green in March 2017 when Fulton was keen to use his experience at World League Round 2 in a transitioning side following the Olympics.
With increasing work commitments at his base in Germany and a growing young family, it became difficult to stay involved in the setup though Fulton was keen to keep the door open as long as possible. He is looking forward to supporting from afar, something he particularly enjoyed last month when watching the Irish women’s “heroic feats” from his vantage point on the sofa.