Timely boost for Ards ahead of European Indoor Challenge mission

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ARDS have received a timely boost ahead of their European Indoor Challenge trip to Lisbon this weekend with the announcement of a new sponsorship deal.

The club will benefit from the backing of a local property company, Northland Developments, whose name the players now display proudly on their shirts.

And Ards fully deserve the financial support as one of the most proactive clubs when it comes to media relations, the value of which they fully recognise.

Manager Phil Mills is extremely diligent when it comes to keeping the media informed of the goings on within the club and, in fact, it was an article in this newspaper which clinched the deal with the new sponsor.

“A representative from the company read a feature on the club and brought it along to a meeting when the deal was struck so we are very grateful to them and also to Kukri, who have given us free kit.” Phil explained.

“It has been a very busy time not only on the playing front these past few months with indoor and outdoor commitments so we are looking forward to the trip to Lisbon.”

Ards, like Ballymoney, are still in contention for both the Ulster Premier League title and the Irish Senior Cup but, unlike their Co Antrim rivals, are involved very heavily in the indoor game.

This weekend they are up against teams from Wales, Belgium, Sweden, Turkey, Portugal and Hungary in the third tier of European competition and aiming to elevate their own status in the process.

That’s because they will be effectively ‘playing for themselves’ as current Irish champions and their finishing position will determine in which division they play next year.

A top two finish is their objective as that would clinch them, as next season’s representatives, a slot in the second tier which has been the home of Irish teams in the recent past.

Armagh last took part in it a year ago but unfortunately a much depleted squad couldn’t stay up with the result that Ards were relegated to the third division.

Indoor hockey, of course, has enjoyed a mini-revival in Ireland over the past three years having been dumped from the calendar almost 20 years ago.

But Ards captain Naomi Elliott sees some positive signs for the future although with certain provisos that don’t fill her with confidence going forward.

“I think the overall standard of the Ulster tournament was higher this season than it was last time and there was more ‘indoor hockey’ played than ‘outdoor hockey indoors.’ she enthused.

“It was good to see clubs like Portadown, who were in Senior One last season, and North Down taking part and they seemed to enjoy it.

“But it is hard getting suitable halls to practice in and as far as I know only the Queen’s PE Centre has the proper indoor hockey facilities.

“It is also expensive to play with indoor sticks being different from those we use outdoors and it cost clubs 400 euros to enter the competition.”

Probably the biggest stumbling block to the future of indoor hockey here, allied to the expense, is apathy on the part of the authorities on both sides of the border.

Ulster Hockey took no part in the organisation of the local qualifying event and infamously said they knew ‘nothing about it’ (the tournament) in answer to a routine media enquiry as to PR for the showpiece for want of a better word.

Instead it was largely down to the industrious efforts of Railway Union stalwart Paul O’Brien do take the whole event, north and south, under his wing.

In England and most other European hockey-playing countries indoor hockey is very much part of the calendar and indeed, Germany, no not even differentiate between the two codes.

An already crowded fixture list would be used as an excuse or reason, depending on how you look at it, for not playing indoor hockey but there are ways round that perceived obstacle.

Weekend double headers are par for the course in England and occasionally down south while, in contrast, Sundays are not used for local league fixtures in this part of the world.

Not that Sunday hockey is unprecedented here - far from it - only three weeks ago the U21 interprs were staged then and Irish Hockey League, Irish Junior and Senior Cup games including finals have been played on the Sabbath in the province.

But it seems that unless there is a more proactive attitude from the authorities, indoor hockey will remain the domain of those clubs who can afford it to pay for it whether through

sponsorship or fund raising or a combination of both.

Meanwhile, all Ulster and Irish hockey followers, whether advocates of the indoor game or not, will wish Ards the best of luck on their European adventure this weekend.