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Ulster Elks trying to buck the trend in women’s hockey

Ulster Elks Jess McMaster finds her progress closely monitored by Lisnagarveys Hannah Coulter

Ulster Elks Jess McMaster finds her progress closely monitored by Lisnagarveys Hannah Coulter

  • by John Flack
 

The Ulster Elks went the extra mile on Saturday in more ways than one when they sacrificed home advantage to host Lisnagarvey in an Irish Senior Cup second round clash at the Glade.

Normally the Elks play their home games on their own patch at the University of Ulster Jordanstown but it proved to be a low risk strategy as they won the game 4-1.

Although it was an all Ulster affair Ricky Lee and his team did their utmost to make the occasion a bit special and they deserve immense credit for doing so but more on that later.

I hadn’t been to Mossley’s headquarters for more than a decade and, although I didn’t mention it at the time, I was somewhat puzzled when our intrepid photographer Rowland White said to me “you can’t miss it, it’s right beside the railway station”.

“What railway station?” I asked myself. There was no such station on my last visit as it was so long ago, but some things never change and after getting there in good time I was greeted by some familiar faces at the entrance to the club house.

Club stalwarts Harry Burns, Bertie Moore and Dougie Sleith were all there and three proud men they were as they chatted about the new club house and pitch which had, a week previously, hosted the boys under 16 and under 18 inter-pros and in March a series of women’s internationals.

But one comment from Dougie set me thinking. “Visiting players don’t stay around any more - they just arrive in their track suits and go away in them.”

But back to the Elks and they made a tremendous effort to make the occasion a special one although they were less welcoming on the pitch as ‘Garvey will testify to.

I was amazed to see half a dozen ball girls lined up around the pitch and all of them were wearing Elks gear under several other layers as they kept warm.

Music blared out over the PA System before the start, at half time and at the end of an excellent game of hockey watched by a big crowd.

It’s a very user friendly club house as spectators who don’t wish to brave the cold can watch in comfort from an elevated position with their favourite tipple in hand.

After the game the Elks had laid on a meal for both teams and umpires, again to enhance the sense of occasion.

But such occasions are, sadly, all too rare outside the two all Ireland competitions when visiting teams who have often travelled long distances are fed and watered as a matter of course.

Also present at Saturday’s game was Randalstown co-captain Louise Creighton, who was manning the club shop.

She, too, laments the fact that it just isn’t the same any more as far as the camaraderie between teams at domestic level is concerned.

“In the men’s game opposition teams tend to make an effort to come in for a drink but I suppose in the women’s game, it’s because a lot of us don’t have club houses and many teams play at Leisure Centres.” she explained.

“Back in the old days we went back to the rugby club in Randalstown. Often then there were a lot of players from the surrounding area and (local) players were brought up through the club.

“Nowadays though there are a lot more school kids playing on women’s teams and they often have Ulster or Irish training the next day.

“The pressure on these kids is immense and, quite, honestly I don’t know how they do it.”

Due to work commitments I had to decline Louise’s invitation to stay for some hospitality at Mossley’s palatial club house and instead I headed to my normal base at Queen’s Sport to put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard.

The place was buzzing as players from opposing sides were sitting down to sandwiches and stew and enjoying each other’s company in the club house which, like Mossley’s, is superbly appointed.

But it was the footballers of Queen’s University and Glebe Rangers who were enjoying the ‘craic’ and there wasn’t a hockey player in sight.

Queen’s Football Club always make a point of entertaining visiting teams although I am not sure if it is a widespread phenomenon outside of Upper Malone.

But I know, from experience on other Saturday afternoons that it also applies to rugby when players and supporters from Queen’s and their opposition are seen mingling together after matches.

As dusk fell the footballers from both teams said their ‘cheerios’ and went their separate ways while I continued my work and it was one of those ‘last out, please turn the lights out’ occasions.

However the bar would have remained open had any one else wanted to sample it’s contents or merely sit around and have a chat in the club house.

As I left, as if to illustrate the point, two women’s hockey teams were trudging off one of the pitches and both sets of players headed straight for their cars without even considering the possibility of even the briefest bit of socialising.

So well done to the Ulster Elks for trying to break the norm and making Saturday’s Cup game a special occasion and to Mossley for their offer of hospitality - I will take it up next time and leave the lap top at home.

But as far as the social side of women’s hockey here is concerned, it seems to be a thing of the past and that’s a real shame.

 

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