Ulster teams in Irish Hockey League U-turn

Annadale and Instonians could be playing in the Irish Hockey League next season after all
Annadale and Instonians could be playing in the Irish Hockey League next season after all

And what was that all about?

After months, weeks, days and hours of fraught discussions, it now seems that all five Ulster teams are prepared to play in the next season’s new national Irish Hockey League.

At one stage, it seemed that only new Ulster Champions Banbridge and Lisnagarvey were going to be playing in the IHL.

But, as the deadline loomed for teams to announce their intention, there was a sudden complete turnaround, or change of heart from the other teams.

So, why did we have to go through all the heavy debate for or against the IHL? One thing is for sure, it didn’t put Ulster hockey in a good light, especially now as the five teams seem to have ignored the recent Ulster Hockey vote, which rejected the new IHL in its current format.

So, at the minute the way things stand - Banbridge, Lisnagarvey, Cookstown and Annadale are definitely participating in the IHL, with Instonians hoping to qualify through this weekend’s wildcards.

Annadale Chairman, Alaistair Chisholm explained Annadale’s reason for playing in the IHL. He said: “Since the ‘yes’ vote at the IHA EGM in November last year to bring in a National League, we held out hope for a resolution between Ulster Hockey and Hockey Ireland.

“With none forthcoming by Friday 3 April, we accepted the invitation to enter the IHL for next season. Throughout the process we have asked questions of Irish Hockey which we now feel have been answered.

“We are a young progressive club with many Junior Age internationals. We feel it is our duty to allow them to compete at the highest level possible.”

However, by all five clubs going to the IHL it, in affect now brings to an end the Ulster premiership as we know it and also Kirk Cup and Anderson Cup, as the five teams can no longer compete in these tournaments – or have I got that wrong, as no-one seems to have an answer?

One thing is for sure, the whole debacle has somewhat overshadowed this weekend’s IHL finals, in which Banbridge are going for a record five trophies.

Recently crowned as new GOC Estate Agents premiership champions, Bann have also the Anderson and Kirk Cups in their trophy cabinet, which ironically could be the last time all three trophies are there.

And of course, the Irish Senior Cup, made its first appearance in the Bann trophy cabinet for the first time in almost 30 years.

So to complete the five trophy haul, it is down to this weekend.

and to add the IHL title would cap an already remarkable season for a Bann side that has been simply sublime.

First up for Bann, they face Pembroke Wanderers in a repeat of their Irish Cup semi, which saw the Ulster champions over-run the Dublin side winning 4-0. But Pembroke this time around just won’t be as easy.

However, Bann are favourites to reach the final and with Dane Ward making this weekend his swan-song for the club, before he goes off to work in London, he will be determined that Bann finish the season with another trophy.

Waiting for them in Sunday’s final will either be Leinster Champions Monkstown, or hosts Three Rock Rovers.

Inst will be involved in the IHL wildcards which will run concurrently at Three Rock. They will be up against Railway Union and UCC for the final spot.

There are some Senior One games this weekend but they are only a formality, as the top five places are already secured. However, should Inst fail to qualify for the IHL, then it looks likely that Queens would miss out in playing in the new Ulster Premiership next season.