It’s lights, camera and action for Ards ladies in Portugal

Ards in Portugal
Ards in Portugal

LIVE television coverage, a hostile home crowd trying to put the away team off. It must be football mustn’t it? No, actually you’re wrong - this is hockey Portuguese style!

Portugal, I hear you say. Yes, Portugal! Made famous by the likes of Christiano Ronaldo and Nani on the football pitch.

Minnows in the world of hockey yet they still managed to attract the TV cameras along to their tournament being hosted in their country for the first time.

Portugal put Ireland to shame when it comes to television coverage of hockey, the indoor variety that is although even the outdoor game rarely hits the small screen in this part of the world

The television cameras were there to capture the action as Ards performed magnificently to clinch the bronze medals at the European Challenge tournament at the weekend.

The big crowd at the Belenenses indoor stadium tried their best to put Naomi Elliott off when she stepped up to take a penalty stroke at the competition as Ards played the hosts in their last game.

She held her nerve and stuck the ball in the net and Ards went on to win the game 5-3 and clinch the bronze medals - what a wonderful achievement for the Ulster team.

Naomi is well used to performing in front of a live TV audience as she did, after all, help Bowden-Hightown win the English title a couple of years ago when under the scrutiny of the cameras.

Five thousand people packed into the arena on that occasion and although there were fewer in Lisbon at the weekend the atmosphere was pretty electric.

“Belenenses is the third biggest sports club in Lisbon after Benfica and Sporting and they brought plenty of fans along to the tournament.” explained Ards manager Phil Mills.

“We were delighted to finish third and I was very proud of all the girls after such a fantastic effort.

“Obviously our target was to finish in the top two and get promoted but that wasn’t possible after we lost to the Belgians in our opening game on Sunday.

“But there was no sense of disappointment whatsoever when we had to change our objective to winning our last game to take bronze.”

Indoor hockey here is on it’s last legs and Ards had no support whatsoever from the governing bodies north or south at the showpiece moral, financial or in person.

The girls bust a gut to raise the money to finance their trip to the Portuguese capital staging a number of events to offset the costs.

They travelled there with the hope of securing promotion to the second tier of European competition but the bronze medals were rich consolation as they did themselves, their club, their friends and families and their sponsors Northland Developments proud.

They also did Ulster and Irish hockey proud but by that I don’t mean the governing bodies of those jurisdictions who gave them little or no support bar Railway Union stalwart Paul O’Brien, without whom indoor hockey in Ireland would be dead and not on a metaphorical life-support machine.

I make no apologies for repeating the words of a prominent Ulster Hockey official ahead of the local qualifying tournament when I made a routine enquiry regarding media and PR for the event.

“I know nothing about it.” was the bland statement in response to my query. Most unfortunate I am sure you will agree irrespective of your thoughts on the merits and demerits of indoor hockey.

The Irish Hockey Association website didn’t have a word about Ards achievement and nor did the Ulster site - instead it was left to club official Phil Mills to provide the communication.

With that there was a major problem so I am afraid Phil, I have to take issue with you in the public domain.

I had a problem editing down the volume of material you sent me in such surgical detail - I jest, of course. It’s a problem I would love to complain of in a general sense and thanks for doing such a magnificent job.

From the Ards club perspective Phil also did a magnificent job with regular detailed matchreports on social networking sites.

As I alluded to earlier Ards have sponsorship from a local firm and I am sure they will have been delighted with the coverage their brand achieved.

Proactive Public Relations equals potential sponsorship and in Ards case, actual financial backing. Ulster Hockey has no sponsorship and no PR strategy. Coincidence? I think not.