Ards Naomi Elliot
Ards Naomi Elliot

WHILE Ards continue to bask in the glory of winning back-to-back all Ireland indoor titles - the first team since Randalstown in 1991 to achieve the feat - a prominent hockey coach tried to put a dampener on their triumph in Dublin at the weekend.

He is a friend of mine and because of that I won’t name him but he had the audacity to call the National Indoor Trophy tournament a ‘meaningless competition.’

Sadly that’s the attitude amongst many hockey followers, players and administrators on both sides of the border but the girls of Ards are clearly exceptions.

They are rightly proud of their achievement and will be heading to Lisbon next month with their destiny in their own hands as they prepare to compete in the European Challenge tournament.

A trip to the continent will also be their reward next season after they beat Hermes 3-1 in the final in Dublin on Sunday so they can elevate themselves to the second tier in Europe if they can earn promotion in Lisbon.

A massive fund-raising drive is in place and it won’t be long before the next one commences as they prepare for next year’s expedition.

To go back to my friend’s harsh though admittedly personal assessment on indoor hockey, the competition is obviously not meaningless as far as Ards are concerned.

Otherwise they wouldn’t have dug deep into the club’s coffers to pay the 400 euro to compete in the tournament and taken the time and effort to embark on the fundraising drive.

That almost certainly won’t be enough to pay all the costs for the trip to Portugal not to mention the add-ons like time off work and studies.

Indoor hockey, as many people will know, thrived in the 80s and 90s before it died a death and thanks to the Irish Hockey Association it was revived a few years ago and the national title has been won by an Ulster side in each of the last three years.

From a spectator’s point of view it is certainly a much more exciting version of the game than it’s outdoor equivalent as I discovered when watching the concluding evening’s play at the Ulster qualifier at Queen’s PE Centre.

Like many hockey followers I am also a football addict and only indoor hockey has ever replicated anything near the excitement levels that only the ‘beautiful game’ can evoke.

It’s fast, skilful and unpredictable in that two or three goal leads can easily be overturned and, especially pertinent at this time of year, it’s played in a warm environment!

So much for spectators but what about the benefits from a playing perspective? Ards captain Naomi Elliott who has also won an English national indoor title with Hightown is in no doubt the two codes are complimentary.

“After a few weeks of indoor preparation I can definitely notice an improvement in my outdoor game – your reactions and skills become a lot sharper.” she explained.

“Your basics become more consistent but because we only get to play it for such a short period in the season you can often feel those close control skills softening up and that quick reaction time begin to slow down.

“Perhaps if we trained indoor once weekly throughout the season I think it would have more of an impact on my outdoor game but I guess this is just not feasible.

“I feel my indoor game is of a high standard because I was lucky to learn from, and train with, some of the best indoor players in England and possibly Europe.”

As regards the feasibility of the authorities taking indoor hockey more seriously public enemy number one would appear to be apathy although cost is another factor.

Unfortunately money and enthusiasm for indoor hockey are in short supply although Ireland is out on a limb as regards that version of the game’s importance.

It is big business in almost every leading hockey-playing nation in Europe both on the continent and closer to home and the likes of England and Scotland have an outdoor shut down to facilitate indoor hockey.

“In England, the league begins a lot earlier – at the beginning of September and also most cup matches are played on a Sunday.” Naomi added.

“Double-header weekends are the norm over there and they also take a winter break from December to the beginning of February.”

So clearly where there’s a will there’s a way but until more people in power realise that indoor hockey is far from meaningless it looks likely to remain a poor cousin of it’s outdoor sister sport.