Ulster clubs to discuss IHL at meeting

Ards' Zara Malseed and 'Garvey's Selena Brown pictured during a recent Premier League game
Ards' Zara Malseed and 'Garvey's Selena Brown pictured during a recent Premier League game

Several clubs have voiced their concern and confusion at the continuing saga surrounding the introduction of a ‘full’ Irish Hockey League – as was successfully voted through at the IHA EGM in October.

Clubs and other interested parties have, however, been asked to attend a Special General Meeting of the Ulster Hockey Union on March 25 to consider alternatives.

At the outset, it is worth repeating that Ulster’s request for clubs NOT to attend the Dublin EGM in October was a tactical blunder resulting in the requisite 75 per cent majority voting in the proposal for a 10-team IHL starting next season.

Had Ulster instead urged its clubs to attend the meeting and vote ‘no’ to the proposals, then they wouldn’t have been voted through and it would have been back to square one.

Ulster has recommended that delegates at the forthcoming SGM vote in favour of Option 1 which sets out an alternative proposal for an expanded IHL which would not result in the exclusion of the teams concerned from the Premier League.

Option 2 is more straightforward in that, if voted through, it would mean that the new ‘full’ IHL would take place as of next season as per the vote at the October EGM.

However, Portadown, Harlequins and other women’s outfits have expressed their concern at the delay in getting satisfactory answers to questions.

Ports coach Jane McKimm, who points out that her club have yet to sit down and discuss what way to vote and therefore she is expressing a personal opinion, poses a pertinent query.

“At the recent forum I attended we were told the meeting was taking place to discuss the ‘proposals’ for the new IHL,” she said.

“But these aren’t ‘proposals’ now, by definition, because they were voted through at a properly constituted EGM back in October – end of story.

“To me the whole thing has been a complete waste of time and money by Ulster and, again, speaking personally and not for the club, if it was up to me I would be voting for Option 2 because I want to look after the interests of Portadown – that way we will stay up.

“Talking to several other coaches they would be quite happy to see the back of the bigger and more successful clubs because that way we will be competing on a more level playing field.”

Others will, of course, take a different view and the governing body, in its covering letter to clubs regarding the EGM, seems a little contradictory.

It states: “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.”

The governing body has indicated that it will not permit IHL clubs to take part in competitions like the Ulster Shield and (equivalent of the men’s) Anderson Cup and therefore it could be argued that it is Ulster Hockey that is ‘diluting’ the quality of those competitions.

As regards the other provinces, Leinster have, it seems, bowed to the inevitable and have sorted out the query over promotion and relegation in their domestic league, unlike Ulster.

And most pertinently, Leinster clubs WILL be permitted to take part in their equivalent of our Ulster Shield and other knock out competitions.

Harlequins have also raised several reservations about the whole process in a statement.

“We, as a club, are disappointed to find themselves in the drop zone but will there be a drop? We just don’t know ?” it said.

“There are many unanswered questions about what will happen if some eligible Ulster Clubs go to play in IHL and others do not.

“The Ulster Hockey Management Board would prefer if none of them takes up the option but if one of the main concerns of an IHL is that elite players will no longer be ‘seen’ in Ulster are we not denying those same players the chance to play against the very best on a more regular basis and therefore diluting our own product nonetheless?

“The constant deliberations between Ulster Hockey and its member clubs are rumbling on right to end of the season and we still have to vote on what seems to have become the future of Ulster Hockey.

“Let’s hope that the whole issue can be cleared soon so that Ulster Hockey can start to redirect their time and resources into making the product an attractive sporting option for talented girls.”

Another club representative, who didn’t want to be named, voiced concerns after attending one of the forums.

“Breaking away was highlighted as a worst case scenario that the majority do not want (as was repeated many times). However the more likely ‘what if’ was highlighted, that for any club that went against the branch and took up their IHL spot there was a veiled but very clear threat.”

“The branch itself could not take any action against those clubs, but if voted for (by simple majority) the rest of the clubs in Ulster could vote through any rule change. Potentially new rules could therefore get passed to exclude those clubs from further participation in the UHU.

“In summary, the branch have been meeting with the other branches and they hope to get all provinces to agree to a new alternative proposal to the IHL. They would then need the backing of clubs to create enough disruption (by not taking up their places) to try and force the IHA to consider it. But it’s all too late at this stage, particularly as Leinster have made their plans for the ‘full’ IHL.”