FOR around 60 years a map of Ulster hockey had one glaring absence – the lack of a men’s club in our second-largest city.
But in the past four years Foyle Hockey Club has stepped into the breach to fill that void and bring the game back to Londonderry.
While local girls had the opportunity to learn the sport with Priorians, the nearest men’s club was based in Raphoe, a few miles over the border in Donegal.
And one man was more instrumental than most in getting the Foyle club off the ground.
Alan McCague’s interest in hockey was formed in his years at Newry High School and also with the town’s local club.
He continued to hone his skills at university in England and then playing for Raphoe on his return to Northern Ireland to work in Londonderry.
It was in the latter months of 2008 that he decided to test the water in terms of interest in setting up a new men’s club in the Maiden City.
“Men’s hockey has been missing in the north west for almost 60 years when there used to be around ten teams competing,” recalls Alan.
“So we held a meeting and the proverbial Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and Welshman turned up, as well as a Kiwi and South African.
“We had a good nucleus to work from and began with one night a week for an hour. Junior practice was also started with kids of players attending and also with people responding to local advertising and promotion, especially targeting schools.
“And to raise the profile of the sport we staged an exhibition game of Premier League hockey between Banbridge and Raphoe, which was supported by Derry City Council with a civic reception.”
After many more meetings, and working in conjunction with the hockey authorities, it was quickly becoming clear that the project of establishing a senior men’s team was moving ahead even quicker than Alan would have initially anticipated.
“It was around February 2009, six months after the first meeting, that there were murmurings of getting a team together,” explains Alan.
Finance was a key issue, but those involved dug deep and in conjunction with sponsorship from the Waterfoot Hotel, which to this day continues to give invaluable support to the club, it was decided to enter a team into Senior League Two for the 2009-10 season.
They started off with 12 players, only five of whom had hockey experience, but today operate with a pool of around 22 players and hope to be in a position to field a second team in three to five years.
The junior section, which caters for both boys and girls from the age of eight, has continued to flourish with a council programme funding coaching and hence access to ten primary schools for a six-week period in 2010-11.
This put 200 kids into contact with the sport of hockey, culminating in a blitz tournament.
In 2011 an under-13 boy was accepted into the North West Development Squad, a figure which has risen to six this season, proof of the growing strength of the club’s junior section.
“With this production line we should be in a position in a few years to field another team as the youngsters progress to the senior set-up,” said Alan.
“Our junior section features under-9s, under-11s and under-13s and a new development this year is the Western Junior League which is planned to run from November to March.
“Hockey has not been accessible in secondary schools for boys since the decline of the local men’s league all those years ago.
“This new league will help the development of hockey in the west of the Province and the forthcoming City of Culture year bodes well for further celebrations and development initiatives for the sport here.”
As well as founding the club, which is based at St Columb’s Park on the Limavady Road, carrying out the secretarial duties and being the lead junior coach, Alan plays for the senior team.
He readily accepts they are the “minnows” of Senior Two but for a club still in its infancy it’s a wonderful achievement to have brought men’s hockey back to Londonderry. That in itself is a great success.
* The club is keen to attract new members - from all sections of the community and cultural backgrounds. Current senior membership stands at around 30 with junior membership around 45.
They would love to hear from anyone who wants to learn the sport for the first time, develop their fitness, or from former players.
The club would also like to hear from students who believe they have something to offer or who may wish to develop coaching experience and obtain qualifications.
Contact can be made via the club’s Facebook page or by calling Alan on 07764 499495.