Full IHL may not be the way forward for local players

Louise Creighton
Louise Creighton

The issue of schoolgirl players and schoolteachers in women’s hockey continues to be the main stumbling blocks to proposals for a new-look ‘full’ IHL being introduced as far as Ulster clubs are concerned.

Delegates at Monday night’s superbly-organised and well attended forum at Deramore Park raised many issues but, once again, the schools debate was the most prevalent – although costs were also a source of concern.

Reading between the lines, while talks have been going on with potential sponsors, it seems likely that no significant backing is in place for the new Irish Hockey League, if the proposals were to be given the green light.

Judging by the amount of well thought-out resistance aired on Monday at Deramore, it would fly in the face of democracy if the idea comes to fruition for the time-being at least.

Leinster will hold their forum tonight and it appears likely that the Dublin-based province will give the proposals the thumbs up.

Munster met on Sunday and the ideas were given broad approval – albeit with a few reservations – so the IHA, at a guess, could give the proposals the go-ahead on a 2-1 majority.

If that were to be the case then there are bound to be objections from the Ulster fraternity and, indeed, for it to be a ‘full’ all-Ireland league, the IHL could not go ahead without Ulster representation by definition.

Delegates were told, contrary to some opinion expressed from the floor, that the proposals were by no means a fait accompli and concerns would be voiced by the IHL Working Group when it reports to the governing body in April.

‘Ulster says no’ is a familiar cry in other non-sporting spheres but to suggest that was a relevant analogy on Monday night would misrepresent the truth.

There was broad agreement in most quarters that the idea of an extended IHL was not a bad one, allowing players the opportunity to play different opposition of a more equitable or higher standard and that was viewed as a positive step setting aside the practicalities.

There were alternative suggestions made, including a ‘fast track’ Ulster League until Christmas which, in turn would produce five qualifiers for an IHL Premier Division and five for a second tier.

But under the proposals that were laid on the table just one IHL is being mooted with the top five teams from Ulster being joined by the same number from Leinster and two from Munster.

Some clubs were concerned that this would undermine the domestic league in Ulster and were anxious therefore that some form of local league would continue.

But back to the main bones of contention, starting with the money aspect which, especially in these economic times is obviously a key concern.

One of the male delegates suggested a figure of £5,000 to finance the current set of proposals, and Pegasus coach Michelle Rainey felt that was about right.

“It’s an awful lot of money, particularly as players already have to pay to play effectively as it is.” she said.

“You have (affiliation) fees, pitch hire if you don’t own your own premises which applies to the majority of clubs in Ulster.

“While I see the benefits of some fom of IHL I am not sure we could buy into what was being proposed as it stands.”

Rainey’s goalkeeper Sharon Moffett is a schooltacher at Belfast High and she summed up the problem for members of that profession of which there are many in Ulster women’s hockey across the board.

“My Saturday mornings during the hockey season begin when the alarm goes off at 6am and for home matches in the bad weather there is usually an inspectation early in the day.” she explained.

“The first phone calls start at about 8.45am and if games are off there are a lot more to make.

“If we’re lucky with the weather and the games go ahead it’s usually around 12.30pm by the time I make sure all the kids are despatched home safely.

“You can imagine that it’s hardly great preparation for an afternoon game with the club especially if we have an away game or a 1pm start.”

The problems with having a glut of schoolgirls in Premier League squads have been well documented in this column in recent weeks, so suffice to add that the issue would become more prevalent in an IHL setting.

Some delegates on Monday night suggested that Schools’ Cup matches which are the most important, be moved to midweek but I am told for curriculum and staffing reasons that simply won’t be happening.

Randalstown captain Louise Creighton came up with another potential problem were her team to miss out on an IHl place under the new proposals. and it doesn’t necessarily stop at schoolgirls.

“We have six schoolgirls in our squad, three teachers and a mum, so the IHL would not suit us if we got a place in it.” she stated.

“I have also serious concerns about what would happen if we didn’t make the IHL.

“I can guarantee you that we would lose our best players to a club or clubs that did qualify and that would be very frustrating as I know from past experience.

“We have a thriving junior section with quality coaches who devote a lot of time to youth development.

“If we were to lose those players then all that hard work that has been put in has gone to waste and it has happened before and it would happen again and we don’t want that to happen.”