Premier League survival currently top of the agenda

Any visitor to Lisnagarvey’s palatial headquarters at Comber Road just outside Hillsborough couldn’t fail to be aware that this is a very successful hockey club.

An abundance of pictures adorn the walls illustrating the vast array of trophies that the club has won over the years.

Many of the club’s top players went on to excel at representative level many for Ireland and several for Great Britain.

That’s enough about the men; what about the women? Well they have ambitious plans to join their male counterparts in the Hall of Fame in the years to come.

At present they have a modest aim - merely to stay in the Ulster Premier League after being promoted at the end of last season.

But that will be seen as one small step in a bigger journey as they are striving to book a place in the Irish Hockey League at some stage in the future.

Presently they have 14 points and that tally in previous seasons would almost certainly have guaranteed their survival.

But such has been the topsy turvy nature of the season so far they are still not safe and, on Friday night face a crucial battle with basement side Armagh at Ardmore.

A win there would probably be enough to keep them up in the top flight and then their ambitious plans for the future can gather pace. if they get the result they need.

New coach Simon Toole took over the reins somewhat reluctantly but he has grown into the role in recent weeks after taking over from Davy Allen who quit during the Ulster Shield campaign.

Toole is a little frustrated that his team haven’t had a match for a fortnight with the way the fixture list has panned out but it’s onwards and hopefully upwards as far as he is concerned.

“We don’t have too many Saturday games left bar one agianst Ards and the rest are midweek starting with the Armagh match.” he explained.

“We did an awful lot of work over the Christmas period and it has been a bit frustrating that we go into Friday night’s game with armagh not having played for almost two weeks since we drew 1-1 with the Ulster Elks.”

“But I am enjoying the experience of working with the entire squad which includes some players who normally line out for the seconds.

“We also have some great players who have been about for a while and it is also great to see the younger ones coming through and making headway.

“It is enjoyable being able to give the players coming through a chance to play Premier League hockey and it is more enjoyable when we achieve things.

“Working with girls is a bit different to working with men but I have adapted to little things like time keeping.”

Toole is the first to admit he didn’t expect to be in the hotseat for the entire season after Davy Allen’s surprise departure.

“Originally I had planned to be the assistant coach for the whole season, or even go back to that role when I took over as coach.” he added.

“So in that respect it’s not the season I had been anticipating although I hope to be involved the club next season in some capacity as well.

“We will look to see where we want to go but I hope to be back to my original role.

“I think hopefully it’s worked out well but it is important for the long term future of the club that we stay up.

“The ambition of the club is to have two teams in the IHL in a five year timeline so it’s vital for us to stay in the premier League to fulfil that.

“So, over the next few weeks we need to get the results because without the foundation the long term aspiration would not be possible.

“We need to examine the set up see who is to be involved and ask how do we get to where we want to be.

“Rather than giant leaps at the moment it is small steps and it is a case of let’s get over the line and stay up and I plan to be involved but it will depend on who becomes available next season.”

Pressure is not a word in the Toole vocabulary and he has an experienced back room team behind him.

Former ‘Garvey stars Kyle Lunn, Brian Waring and Neil Brazil are all involved in the running of the club coaching goalkepers defenders and lending a helping hand in general.

“Brian helps out with the defenders, Kyle has a lot of experience as a former Garvey men’s first eleven coach while Neil works very hard with our goalkeepers so it is great to have that level of support.” Simon explained.

“I don’t think either the players or I feel pressure as there is a massive enthusiasm at the club - we have a huge youth set up with a number of coaches giving their time on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Sundays.”

“They are working with literally hundreds of girls and, in fact, we have more girls coming through than boys.

“We want to give them a route for the future at the club by trying to convert that into adult membership.

“We are surrounded by the best facilities in the country and a great youth set up so it would be great offer the girls coming through the opportunities like aspiring to play in the IHL

“It will, of course, be a long journey but an important milestone will come when we see what the next few weeks bring with them in terms of Premiership survival.”