Battling the winter conditions doesn’t help the game

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21sr December 2014 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye ''Ulster Indoor Championships 2014 at Queen's PEC.  Ards Vs Queen's.  Ards'  Chloe Brown with Queen's Robyn McKee.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 21sr December 2014 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye ''Ulster Indoor Championships 2014 at Queen's PEC. Ards Vs Queen's. Ards' Chloe Brown with Queen's Robyn McKee.

Watching Saturday’s Senior Cup final from the neutral dug out until the bitter cold forced me indoors, I couldn’t help but notice the sight of a Dungannon sub preparing to come on.

The poor girl was literally shivering and in danger of suffering from exposure in her short sleeved shirt as she awaited her team mate’s arrival at the half way line to take to the pitch.

The victorious Ards team celebrate their indoor championship success - but does more need to be doen to boost the profile of the indoor game?

The victorious Ards team celebrate their indoor championship success - but does more need to be doen to boost the profile of the indoor game?

Ireland was one of a very small number of countries in Europe playing outdoors at this time of the year and maybe it’s time to consider taking a break and moving indoors to play our hockey like the rest of the continent.

I was among the lucky ones on Saturday because I was able to have an excellent view of the match during the second half from the palatial club house at Havelock Park.

Then the snow came on, mercifully only for ten minutes or so, as the players battled gamely in conditions that were not conducive to good hockey let alone spectating.

A week earlier none of the players at the Irish Indoor Hockey Championships at Queen’s PE Centre experienced any such problems, for obvious reasons.

A small band of enthusiastic clubs and officials do their best to keep this version of the sport alive but the patient is clearly ailing.

The national governing body doesn’t even pay lip service to indoor hockey judging by the complete lack of information on its website ahead of or after the tournament.

The situation is not much better in Ulster, to be honest, but all credit to our President Ann Rosa for her support over the two days at the PE Centre.

Brian Caruth - not sure whether it was an Ulster or Irish hat he was wearing - was also present as was Ireland men’s manager Peter Jackson from start to finish.

Umpires? There were just three who were on duty all weekend namely Tara Browne, who traveled all the way from Galway, Jamie Aiken and Christine Reid - presumably no one else was interested.

Just five clubs in Ulster expressed an interest in taking part and these were the usual suspects, namely Ards, Queen’s, the Ulster Elks and Portadown.

This year they were joined by former champions Armagh and that was no coincidence as it was largely down to coach Nial McCool that they made their return to the indoor game.

McCool is a big fan of the sport and the fact he spent a couple of years away from the club due to family commitments meant there was no one to fight the cause of indoor hockey until his return.

He is very much in favour of taking a break from outdoor hockey in the worst of the winter but he insists that the initiative must come from the top.

Armagh were certainly well represented at the tournament at the PEC and not just by those wearing the Orchard county jerseys.

Emma Reid, who helped Ards retain their title, Gemma Frazer from the Ulster Elks Elks, Joanne Orr and Linzi Hamilton of Queens are all past Armagh players so the indoor bug runs deep in that part of the world.

“A steering committee would need formed and driven by believers and supported by the Branch and Executive,” says McCool.

“It’s the lazy approach that puts teams off but if the branch promotes it and pushes it clubs will embrace it.

“However, it’s expensive and that is hardly going to encourage more clubs to take part

“We need proper venues with large courts, well marked out and several venues need to be confirmed in geographical areas to facilitate all teams in Premier League.

“District Councils need to be approached to support the venture and contribute financially. They might purchase sideboards and goals if they know clubs will book the facility.

“A main headline sponsor is needed for both men’s and ladies super 5s as indoor hockey is now marketed as.

“Ten teams in Premier League both men and ladies need to take part and it should be made compulsory in my opinion.

“Teams could be divided into two pools of five like the Ulster Shield with the top two from each going into a semi final.

“The tournament could be staged over two consecutive weekends with teams playing two each games per day.

“Both finalists should be sent to take part in all Ireland in Dublin, if they were to take it seriously in the south.

“There should be potential for midweek games to release some pressure. Why not create an atmosphere with some music and spectators.

“Also another idea might be to have an inter-pro indoor hockey tournament and, If marketed properly, it could be an exciting hockey product like in years gone by.

“In addition, schools needs to be enthusiastic for this so why not promote a schools’ indoor league and that way we would be grooming the next generation with the sport.

“In Armagh, and especially the likes of the late George Compston, we are big fans of indoor and this year’s was a very successful tournament again driven by some key Ards members.

“However, we need to embrace the passion shown by some of these clubs and Paul O’Brien, in Dublin, to maintain this sport.

“If the branch does not support it and it becomes a half hearted event then it’s pointless. We as Ulster clubs deserve better and we should be provided for. If the demand is there and I think it is!”

McCool has certainly provided a lot of food for thought and that shivering Dungannon player, I am sure, would welcome an indoor league!