The excitement is mounting ahead of the National Indoor Hockey finals, the satellite television crew has done its ‘recce’, the tickets are on sale and the event will be watched by several thousand spectators and many more on TV.
Enough of the English version, this season known as the Hockey 5s - what about our own equivalent which takes place this weekend at the Queen’s PE Centre and not the Wembley Arena?
It’s highly unlikely that there will be any television coverage, there is no compulsion to play indoor hockey and just five women’s clubs have entered namely defending champions Ards, the Ulster Elks, Portadown along with host team Queen’s and Connacht side, Galway.
Those of us who were part of the four figure crowds which watched indoor hockey here when it was at its peak as the likes of the Valley Leisure Centre hosted all Ireland club championships, inter-provincial and international tournaments will mourn that version of the sport’s relative demise.
The reward for the winners this weekend is a place in the European Championships in 2015 and Ards flew the flag in Lisbon last year and will be heading to Budapest in February for this season’s showpiece.
One person who knows how big indoor hockey is in other parts of Europe is Ards captain Naomi Elliott, who was a member of the Bowden-Hightown team that won the national title a few years ago.
“England have worked hard to increase the profile of indoor and the finals day is hosted at Wembley Stadium where over 4,000 spectators come to watch,” explains Naomi.
“They marketed it as ‘super sixes’ (it is now five-a-side), the atmosphere was electric – music, lights, commentators and TV coverage.
“Getting to that finals day was an incredible experience.and the qualifying tournaments all received good press coverage also.
“I joined Bowden-Hightown because it was the closest Premier club to me – having had no experience in indoor hockey I was quite unaware of their indoor specialism and success in both England and Europe.
“Bowden are realistic in their approach to indoor – their outdoor performance and preparation is not compromised.
“Indoor preparation usually begins late October and early November and is compulsory for all first eleven squad players.
“They train once weekly in addition to their outdoor training. As the indoor season approached there was a real buzz in the club – it was an exciting time and I could tell the Bowden girls held high expectations of getting to the ‘Super Sixes’ finals day in Wembley Stadium.”
With an already crowded calendar in outdoor hockey, it is difficult squeezing any indoor tournament into the fixture list here but in England, it’s a case of ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’
“The league begins a lot earlier – at the beginning of September and also most cup matches are played on a Sunday, double-header weekends are the norm over there.” Naomi added.
“They also take a winter break from December to the beginning of February. Whilst the start of the season can be a somewhat ‘gruelling’ hockey schedule – especially if your league game and cup games are at different ends of the country, it usually equates to few fixture problems and allows clubs to take part in indoor without having to rearrange fixtures and have a backlog of games to play.
“As a result, I feel the indoor league carries a much greater prestige and reputation. Winning the English national indoor league is a sought after title.
“Unfortunately, the current Ulster and all Ireland league structure doesn’t allow for this seamless approach to indoor - even despite weeks of cancellations and setbacks in the outdoor game due to the adverse weather conditions that we experience annually.”
Several clubs would be in favour of having a break from outdoor hockey and filling the gap by moving inside.
Another argument would suggest playing indoor hockey is beneficial to one’s outdoor game and Naomi believes it has helped her development as a player.
“After a few weeks of indoor preparation I can definitely notice an improvement in my outdoor game – your reactions and skills become a lot sharper and your basics become more consistent.” she continued.
“I feel my indoor game is of a high standard because I was lucky to learn from, and train, with some of the best indoor players in England and possibly Europe.
“I can understand why some clubs here don’t enter the indoor tournaments – extra training in a different venue and coaching does not come cheap.
“Whilst the reputation and prestige of indoor remains low key I am hoping it will increase – but until the structure of the league changes and perhaps a winter break is added I feel that it will continue to attract a random selection of clubs each season.”
Lights, camera, action ! That seems to be the case in England but in this part of the world indoor hockey seems to be on a life-support machine and someone may well soon turn the switch off, sad to say.