DCSIMG

Portrush’s youth policy paying off

Portrush

Portrush

No history of Irish men’s hockey would be complete without a mention of Portrush.

And now the sport is enjoying something of a renaissance on the north coast.

The famous old club, which is based in nearby Ballycastle, has enjoyed something of a nomadic existence in the last two decades.

One of the last teams in the country with a home grass pitch, the advent of artificial surfaces, which have so dramatically changed the sport, left Portrush with no option but to seek pastures new.

Around 20 years ago they moved their games from Seaview Park in the town to the University of Ulster facilities at Coleraine and then on to the Joey Dunlop Centre in Ballymoney.

But half a dozen years ago they switched their base to the Quay Road complex in Ballycastle.

“The move to Ballycastle made sense because a lot of our players now come through Ballycastle High School,” explained club secretary Ian Jinks.

“We currently have a strong base of 39 registered players for our two teams and the future is definitely looking bright.”

In recent years the club made a conscious decision to develop young talent and the fruits of their labour are now showing.

Despite early exits from the Sussex Regiment Cup and Irish Hockey Challenge, Portrush are well placed to mount a promotion challenge in Senior Two.

“It is the tightest league for half a dozen years, we are happy with our position and we have given ourselves a fighting chance,” said Ian.

“Our aim for the club in the coming years is to establish ourselves as a Senior One side, which would in turn put us in a stronger position as regards attracting players.”

The Portrush first team is coached and captained by Aaron Kerr who is in his second season back after playing with Mossley.

Ian estimates the team has an average age of around 17, a vast change from a few years back.

Neil McMaster, a current player, is a teacher at Ballycastle High School and he has been instrumental in encouraging boys to try their hand at the sport.

And the benefits are there for all to see now with young players like Joshua Hutchinson, Graham Christie, Andrew Christie, Phillip Linton and John McMullan making their mark.

They also welcomed back this season James McCook, after he took a break from the sport for a couple of years, and his goals have proved invaluable.

Portrush Seconds, who are captained by Tom Cartmill, are also enjoying an encouraging season in Junior Five.

Players from the age of 14 train with the senior teams on Wednesday night, while younger talent now has the opportunity to blossom thanks to the Ulster Branch development squad for year eight and nine pupils, based at the university in Coleraine.

The club itself has also, thanks to lottery funding, spread the word about hockey in local primary schools, encouraging youngsters to get involved in the sport.

Links have been developed with Cross and Passion College in Ballycastle and Portrush use their facilities for indoor hockey.

So the future does indeed look bright for a club formed in 1909 and which has always been renowned as one of the most welcoming in Ulster hockey.

Portrush’s first major success came in 1932 when they won the Irish Junior Cup with a team featuring a certain Fred Daly, who went on become The Open golf champion in 1947.

Portrush went on to win the Irish Junior Cup again in 1943 and 1946, while they shared the Senior League title with Banbridge in 1958.

There have been three successes in both the Anderson and Kirk cups, the last being their Kirk Cup triumph in the 1969/70 season.

The most successful season in their history was in 1964/65 when as well as winning the Anderson Cup and Kirk Cup double, they reached the final of the Irish Senior Cup for the only time in their history, losing to Dublin YMCA after a replay.

The club’s last silverware was the Linden Cup in 1999, the same season in which they won promotion back to senior hockey.

Relegation soon followed, however, and they have been struggling ever since to try to return to that level.

Portrush ceased to field a third team in 2007 at the time when the rebuilding of the club started with the move to Ballycastle.

However, if things continue to progress as they have done in recent years the club may well be in a position where they can again field three sides.

Socially the club remains strong and they base themselves in the Central Bar in Ballycastle. Thanks go to the bar, plus Flogas and Michelin Tyre Plc, for their sponsorship of the club.

Behind the scenes the work of the likes of match secretary Trevor Kirkpatrick ensures the smooth running of this proud old club, for whom better days look to be just around the corner.

More information on the club can be found at

www.portrushhockeyclub1909.com or via their Facebook page.

 

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