Short-term pain but long-term gain - that could well be the motto of Portadown Ladies as they find themselves back in Senior One hockey after an all too brief flirtation with the top flight.
The Ports are hoping that a long-term youth development programme will reap dividends in the years to come and, if promotion comes their way again this season, then so much the better.
Every week well over a hundred schoolchildren from Under 11 through to Under 15 turn up at the club’s plush facilities at Edenvilla Park to receive expert coaching.
It’s all done under the watchful eye and careful supervision of one of those ‘every club should have one’ type figures in the shape of Junior Club Co-ordinator Claire Black and her merry team of helpers.
Claire is a classic example of a hockey volunteer who does it all for love and not money but her reward will be seeing the fruits of her labour in the years to come.
Portadown hope that when the Under 15 group come of age and are permitted to play senior hockey for the club’s adult league teams they will provide a solid foundation for the first eleven of the future.
The once even prouder Ports, of course, won every trophy possible in their heyday when they and Pegasus, along with Randalstown in the latter years, shared the honours in the 80s and 90s.
They represented Ireland in Europe in 1994 when they finished fifth in the Cup Winners Cup at a rain lashed Cardiff but shortly after that they ‘did a Leeds’ in footballing parlance as gradually they slipped down the ranks.
The legendary Violet McBride played her last game for the club in the Welsh capital and her fellow internationals like Susie Kinley and Glenda McKee quickly followed her.
The end of an era as far as the glory days were concerned was nigh and it was almost a decade before Portadown were mixing with the elite without actually competing on an even footing with them as they rose through the leagues from the third tier to the first just over a year ago.
Just three points from 18 matches was the return and a promotion- relegation play off against the second finisher in Senior One, Belfast Harlequins, was lost and now they are back in the second tier of Ulster women’s hockey.
But talking to current first team coach Jane McKimm what immediately comes across is that Portadown is much more than a first eleven or 16.
“If we were to go back up again that would be great but if it were to take two or even three seasons then so be it.” she explained.
“But we see the club from the bottom up and that is why we invest so heavily in our youth and currently we have seven under-age teams all playing in leagues, two at Under 15 level and three each at Under 11 and under 13.”
More years ago than she cares to remember Jane played in a McDowell Schools Cup final victory for Armagh High School and therein lies a tale after what was the first of many triumphs at that level for schools in the area.
The High School was subsumed by the Royal School in the Cathedral City and then Lurgan High School, came on board and the players from those seats of learning began to filter into the club scene as illustrated by the rise and rise of outfits like the Lurgan and Armagh town teams.
Their success at schools level - the Royal are the current all Ireland champions - was mirrored by that of Lurgan and Armagh, both of whom play their hockey in the Ulster Premier League.
One doesn’t need a geography degree to work out that Lurgan, Armagh and Portadown are all in very close proximity to one and other and perhaps a 10-team league isn’t big enough to accomodate all three as the Ports relative demise perhaps bears out.
The arrival of Mick McKinnon on the scene at Armagh more than a decade ago after a spell as the then Ulster Branch Development Officer was a huge catalyst and he did sterling work in getting Armagh to where they are today.
Lurgan, too, have had many successes at schools level in recent years and that has filtered up to the club front where they have twice qualified for the Irish Hockey League and last season managed to beat Pegasus who went on, of course, to claim yet another Premier League title.
Something had to give as the three Co Armagh clubs all trawled for talent around the same catchment area and that, in essence, is why Portadown are putting so much effort into their youth strategy not that it is an entirely new concept.
Going back to that European tournament in Cardiff the emergence of teenager Jill Orbinson who scored in one of the games was a product of the club’s youth development programme as a member of what was then called ‘The Cygnets.’
To extend the analogy many like Jill went on to become fully fledged swans and there are several other examples of the youth policy bearing fruit when you look at the current Portadown first eleven.
Players like Leanne Cassells came through the Under 15 set up as did the likes of Jill and Susan Guiney and Jenni Martin.
“Not too many players transfer in Ulster women’s hockey these days so that’s why we see as vitally importnat that we look from the bottom up.” Jane added.