Ulster clubs set for potentially defining vote this month

Banbridge's Peter Brown
Banbridge's Peter Brown

Ulster Hockey could be facing a seismic change when it meets at a Special General Meeting on Wednesday, March 25 at 7.30pm.

Clubs will be given the option of voting for the formation of a Northern Ireland Hockey Association – breaking away from the IHA.

This will have far reaching implications on Irish Hockey, as the creation of an NIHA will end Ulster clubs participation in all Irish Competitions from The Irish Senior Cup to the Irish Hockey Challenge and beyond.

But they are a long way off for the vote to get the green light, as there would be a massive amount of work to be done before it could happen.

However, it seems that in the GB Hockey Constitution, Northern Ireland would be allowed to join the GB Hockey Association along with England, Scotland and Wales.

There had been rumblings that this was going on in the background but in a document issued by Ulster Hockey, it has now finally been confirmed.

The purpose of the SGM is to move forward on two issues: 1 – The new Irish Hockey League and 2 – The forming of the NIHA.

Clubs will be given the option to vote on both and for many it will be hopefully the end of the ongoing debate regarding Ulster’s participation in the IHL next season, as it is becoming a long playing record.

Clubs will be glad to know exactly what is happening as many don’t know where they will be playing next season, which is less than six months away.

In the document issued to clubs, Ulster Hockey states: “This relates to the planned introduction of the National IHL by the IHA for the 2015-16 season. The introduction of this format has not been universally accepted within Ulster, nor within the other Provinces in Ireland.

“Whilst Ulster Hockey supports the enhancement of the IHL, it is the measured view that a National League format removing top club sides from hockey in Ulster, is not to the benefit of all in Ulster Hockey.

“Ulster Hockey has worked hard to engage with all the other Provinces and the IHA Board to resolve this. However, the IHA Board has given a clear indication that they will not consider structural change to the format.

“The Management Board throughout this process has looked to keep Ulster Clubs, Schools and other relevant bodies informed and give them the opportunity to engage in the process, through a number of consultative forums, going back as far as May 2014 and as recently as February 2015.

“The Management Board has sought to provide everyone with all of the information and background to meetings that have taken place.

“This has not resulted in a definitive position. However, as we approach the end of the 2014-15 season, it is appreciated that certain individual clubs will have to make a decision in this regard.

“It is important, therefore, that prior to clubs having to make this decision Ulster Hockey as a whole indicates its stance on the National IHL format.”

There are two votes, but two options within the first vote, either clubs are for the new IHL or against it.

In Option 1 and the one that UH seems to be pushing, as they state:

1. UH will not participate in the national IHL which includes the non-participation in the administration of that league format

2. UH would encourage all Ulster clubs not to participate in the national IHL

3. UH will continue to manage all UHU competitions (leagues and cups).

4. UH Clubs endorse the Ulster option for an enhanced IHL as it continues to allow all Ulster teams to compete in the Premier Leagues.

5. UH Clubs support the ongoing process with the other Provinces, to agree an alternative enhanced IHL option that may be put before an SGM/AGM of the IHA.

Option 2 is that clubs fully accept the IHA’s option of the new IHL and it is fully implemented.

This will see the removal of Ulster’s top five teams from Ulster competitions and will end the debate once and forever.

However, one Premier League team who could be in the new IHL, was concerned about a statement from UH in relation to player registration if the new IHL goes ahead.

“It seems to us that if we register players for our IHL squad, that once they are registered they will not be permitted to play for any of our junior teams in the Ulster leagues.

“That simply doesn’t make sense as we will be naming a panel that will include several schoolboys, so in essence these players even if they are not playing in the IHL, because they are registered with our Firsts they can not play for our Seconds, that is just madness.

“How can we expect schoolboys to sit out games just because they have been registered in our IHL squad? Where is the encouragement in that for our younger players?”

And then finally the second vote – should a new NI Hockey Association be formed?

If this gets the thumbs up from Ulster clubs it will have serious implications on the game as we know it in Ulster. But according to the mood music this doesn’t seem an option, at the minute.

It has been confirmed by the IHA that a Head of Agreement is currently being drawn up with a major International Corporation, which operates throughout Ireland. The company in question, will be sponsoring the new IHL for the next two seasons and details of the sponsorship deal are expected to be announced very soon as the sport looks to the future.