It’s fair to say that hockey in the border town of Newry is at something of a crossroads.
While things look rosy for the senior men’s team at Newry Olympic Hockey Club, it’s where the players of the future will come from which is a cause for concern.
Newry only just missed out on a place in the Premier League when they lost to Belfast Harlequins in a promotion play-off last season.
Their aim at the start of the current campaign was to go one step further and while that currently looks a tall order Newry won’t be giving up the fight just yet.
“Our problem this year has been that while we have picked up points against the other top teams we have dropped some silly points in games we would have expected to win,” explained club PRO Jeremy Greer.
Cup hockey has also been a disappointment after early exits from both the Linden Cup and Irish Hockey Trophy.
However, all is not lost for the current season because four of Newry’s remaining five league games are against teams in the bottom three.
If Newry can get as close to maximum points as possible and other results go their way they may still have a say in the shake-up at the top come the end of the season.
“If things don’t work out this season there’s no reason why we can’t be right up there challenging next year, providing we can keep our squad together,” said Jeremy.
One reason to be confident is the presence of coach Robbie Taylor, who is now in his third year with the club and whose vast experience as an Irish international and player with the all-conquering Lisnagarvey team of the nineties has been rubbing off on the Newry team.
“Robbie has been brilliant for us. He has sorted out our discipline and has made a big difference,” said Jeremy.
Robbie’s son John is a member of the Newry team, while key men include former Banbridge players Colin McKnight and Niall Dinsmore.
Jeremy explains that the core of the Newry team has come up through the ranks together from fifth eleven hockey.
But one of the concerns for the future is the lack of players coming through from local schools. Newry High School is no longer as big a name in schools hockey circles as it was in the past and this has had a knock-on effect on the local club.
Windsor Hill Primary School is helping to provide some young blood, but it’s those players in their teenage years who are proving harder to come by.
“The club went through a bit of a transition period a few years back but three years ago we got our mini and junior hockey going again,” added Jeremy.
“We cater for both boys and girls aged from six to 15 and our aim is to eventually field sides at under-13 and under-15 level.
“Warren Adams, who captains our second team, is in charge of the junior hockey and we would be delighted to see more kids come along to the club on Saturday mornings.
“It’s fair to say that the next five years are crucial to the future of the club because without these young players there won’t be much hope for us.”
Newry’s blueprint for attracting young talent involves closer cooperation with both primary and secondary schools throughout their catchment area, working particularly on a cross-community basis.
To this end the club are liaising with the Ulster Branch and Newry and Mourne District Council (local councillor David Taylor is a playing member of the club), with involvement in summer schemes and coaching sessions for young talent both in the schools and at the club on the agenda.
The club currently fields three men’s teams - the Seconds play in Junior One after winning Junior Two last season, while the Thirds currently sit top of Junior Five. There is also a ladies team competing in Senior Four.
The club itself has a long history having celebrated 100 years of hockey in Newry in 2011.
Some of the greatest names in Irish hockey have also had spells with the club, the illustrious list including current coach Robbie Taylor, Olympic legends Stephen Martin and Billy McConnell and former international star Norman ‘Frankie’ McGladdery.
While success on the pitch has been restricted to junior competitions in recent years, it’s only around a decade ago that Newry were competing at the top level in Ulster hockey.
In the coming months the club itself plans to hold some fundraising events, while their presentation dinner will take place on April 27 in the Canal Court Hotel. On the same day the ‘K Boot’ will be played for between over-35 men’s and ladies teams from the club and the current first teams of Newry High School.
The club would like to take this opportunity to thank all sponsors, including main sponsor McCullough Insurance.
Men’s training takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9pm, ladies train on Wednesdays from 7-9pm with junior hockey on Saturdays between 10 and 11.30am. All are held at Belfast Road.
Anyone seeking further information on the club should visit their website at www.newryhockeyclub.co.uk or make contact via their Facebook page.