HOCKEY: Questions remain despite passing of IHL proposals

What now for the local game? Armagh's Alana Doyle is closed down by Knock's Julie Doak
What now for the local game? Armagh's Alana Doyle is closed down by Knock's Julie Doak
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There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the future of the Irish Hockey League despite the ‘yes’ vote to the new proposals which was the outcome of Sunday’s EGM in Dublin.

One of the most pertinent of these relates to the Ulster response to the proposals which, will not be made known until later in the month.

Katy Bennett, of Ards, shadowed by Railway Union's Kate McKenna in last year Irish Senior Cup semi-final

Katy Bennett, of Ards, shadowed by Railway Union's Kate McKenna in last year Irish Senior Cup semi-final

At this stage we don’t know what Ulster’s response will be and what action they can or will consider taking, if any, once teams receive their invitation to take part.

The Ulster Hockey Union delivered a lengthy statement at Sunday’s EGM which can be found elsewhere on these pages but after the meeting the governing body was more taciturn.

“The Management Board will be meeting in due course to consider the outcome of the EGM,” explained Ulster Chief Executive Angela Platt.

“Following that we will brief and consult with all of our clubs and schools to determine the best way forward for Ulster Hockey.

“The Board asks for some time to ensure they consider all the options and we will notify everyone when there is anything further to add.”

I posed a few questions to the UHU, which will remain unanswered for the time being, so I will endeavour to give my opinions, in the absence of any official response bar that outlined above.

Is there any sense of regret that Ulster adopted the stance re requesting Ulster clubs did not attend the meeting, bearing in mind, if they had recommended that clubs did attend and say ‘no’ the vote might have been different? I am pretty sure that Ulster scored an own goal on this one.

Were they aware beforehand that it required a 75% cent vote in favour of any proposal to go through? Had an additional seven Ulster clubs attended and voted ‘no’ then the proposal would not have received the required majority. The UWHU did reply to this question.

“No, we were not aware of the 75% majority requirement despite the IHA being asked that question well in advance of the meeting,” explained Angela Platt.

Now to the key issue - will Ulster accept the democratic view expressed at the meeting in terms of the vote and will they allow clubs who are eligible to enter?

Or, alternatively, will Ulster try to prevent any Ulster clubs, who qualify, from taking part in the IHL next season? Remember, the statement sent by Ulster to it’s constituent clubs prior to the EGM? It stated: ‘(the meeting will be told)....Ulster Clubs will not participate in a full season IHL.’

One club contacted me last week to state that they had told by someone from within the Ulster governing body that if they entered the IHL then other teams from their club would not be permitted to take part in the domestic leagues and other competitions.

Maybe this was a ‘throwaway’ remark from someone in Ulster Hockey or maybe it was a genuine statement of intent but, because there has been no official answer to that question, despite several requests, we are in the realms of speculation.

Ulster’s objections to the principle of the IHL vote that was passed are documented elsewhere so let’s explore some of the arguments in favour of the idea that were expressed by the ‘yes’ camp at Sunday’s EGM as far as the women’s IHL is concerned. I will turn some of the statements made into questions.

Will the full IHL mean the competition will involve 18 matches involving the ‘best (players) against the best’ over the course of the 18-match campaign ?

Connacht will be represented but no one can tell me that the best team in Connacht is better than the fourth best in Ulster, which has effectively been omitted to make way for the champions from the western province although promotion and relegation between the two IHLs should sort that out.

Will the IHL offer the Irish senior internationals the chance to have top class competition on a regular basis? I doubt whether the Ireland players will be available for the entire 18-match campaign with so many international matches so that is unlikely to be the case.

Will the IHA provide some form of financial support to clubs participating in the IHL? There were no guarantees given at the EGM merely a suggestion that any revenue through sponsorship might be passed on depending on the balance sheet.

Will the IHL generate more publicity for the sport of women’s hockey across the country and increase attendances? We were told that one of the aims of the IHL was to generate public interest in the sport of hockey.

Let’s face it, even hockey people don’t exactly turn up in huge numbers to support the sport. The notion that general sports fans will suddenly shun the Kingspan or Aviva Stadiums, GAA and football grounds to attend hockey matches is, in my opinion, far fetched.

As regards media coverage, IHL or no IHL, women’s hockey recieves a massive volume of column inches in the north, despite a generally apathetic attitude by clubs to PR, but next to no print media coverage in the south.

World Cup, Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games participation produces a much more positive response from the TV media and hockey is given massive coverage at these events.

The problem is that Ireland’s women haven’t been at a World Cup since 2002.

Commonwealth Games? That would only happen if Northern Ireland decided to go it alone and cut off it’s ties with the Dublin-based national governing body. Surely, that would never happen... or could it?