Time to reflect on another exciting year of hockey

Annadale celebrate
Annadale celebrate

This is the last Total Hockey of the season and it’s an opportunity to look back at the highs and lows of the year – and there were plenty of those.

The season got under way in the early autumn sun and with Ulster hockey determined that this was going to be the season that it would wrestle the Irish trophies from their southern counterparts – little did they know.

On the domestic front, everyone wondered was this season going to be the one that brought to an end the dominance of Ulster’s top five teams – Lisnagarvey, Banbridge, Cookstown, Instonians and Annadale – and we all know the answer to that –nearly, but not close enough.

As always the Kirk Cup officially kicked-off the season and in true fashion it was four of the top five who reached the semis. But it was Andy Smyth’s young Annadale side who surprised everyone.

First they dumped Banbridge out of the semis and then against all the odds completed the coup de grace on red-hot favourites Lisnagarvey in the Boxing Day final.

Dale edged them out in a dramatic penalty stroke shootout, which saw Smyth’s young guns lift the trophy for the first time in six years.

Newry and Portrush also collected silverware over the festive period, with the Linden Cup going south to Newry and the Sussex Regiment Cup going in the opposite direction to Portrush.

But as the Premiership got under way there was an air of optimism that this season was going to be a close call, and how right the pundits were.

It went right to the last match, which saw Lisnagarvey take the Keightley Cup and Premiership title, edging out their near neighbours Banbridge.

It was the battle for fifth place that was also causing interest, as it was not going to be a foregone conclusion as any one of the four teams from Mossley, Belfast Harlequins, Kilkeel and Annadale were in the mix for the all important IHL qualifying slot. But it was Annadale who did it, narrowly seeing off Harlequins in the final game of the season.

It was disappointing to see Raphoe drop out of the top-flight as this club fields four teams week in week out and they travel to every corner of Northern Ireland fulfilling every fixture, unlike some clubs.

Hope to see you back in the Premiership soon!

In Senior One Newry added the league title to the Linden Cup for a great double and this weekend they head to Dublin for the Irish Trophy final, to complete a memorable and possible treble winning season – good luck guys!

One of Irish hockey’s oldest clubs Cliftonville dropped to Senior Two. This club once dominated Ulster and Irish hockey and it has suffered more than most trying to attract new talent to the club. Let’s hope they can bounce back.

Portrush dominated Senior Two and they picked up more silverware by adding the league title to their Regiment Cup triumph. This weekend they also head to Dublin where they hope to do the treble, this time adding the Irish Challenge to their haul – bring it home lads!

The dream of Ulster landing some top-flight Irish silverware vanished in a cold February as Lisnagarvey, Ulster’s only semi-final representative, lost to Pembroke Wanderers.

But the trophy went to Three Rock Rovers for the first time in 40 years.

And with home advantage, there were high hopes that Banbridge or Lisnagarvey would at least land the IHL trophy. But alas, Bann went down 2-1 to Monkstown in the final and Southern dominance continues for another season.

Credit to Banbridge as they put on a great show over the weekend and let’s hope that’s the start of many more top class tournaments at their Havelock base.

In the interprovincial series Ulster picked up the Under 21 and Under 16 titles, with the Under 18’s losing out to Leinster. There is great optimism for the future for Ulster hockey as it is simply oozing with talent.

Mossley also showed their organisational skills, as they successfully hosted the inter-pro series followed by the Under 21 tournament, which saw the visit of World Junior Cup champions Germany – just a pity about the weather.

On the national front, Ireland parted company with their national coach Andrew Meredith just before the New Year.

Craig Fulton has stepped into the hot seat as the new Senior coach and the South African will face a tough initiation at this month’s Champions Challenge in Malaysia, without many of his senior players being available.

Fulton has been set tough targets of World Cup and Olympic qualification. However, without the right financial support package in place, this will just become a pipe dream.

In schools’ hockey, Wallace High School from Lisburn ended Banbridge Academy and Cookstown High’s stranglehold on the silverware as they not only won the McCullough Cup, they also won the Burney cup for a remarkable school cup double.

And who would be an umpire.

After years at the top of the umpiring ladder, Colin Hutchinson decided to call it a day and whilst he is putting away his international whistle he plans to keep blowing in the Premiership.

It is always sad when we lose hockey stalwarts who have served the game, both on and off the pitch for many years. Hockey was saddened at the recent loss of Armagh’s David Warnock, and at the age of only 27, it is not only a tragic loss to his family, the Armagh hockey club family but to the hockey family throughout Ireland.

There are still a few trophies up for grabs, but thanks for all your support during the season and I hope to see you in September.