IHL expansion debate – voices from around the provinces

Irish internationals Eugene Magee, Paul Gleghorne, Jason Lynch and Megan Frazer, senior coaches Mick McKinnon, Graham Shaw, Darren Smith and Craig Fulton as well as IHA chief executive Mike Heskin have all spoke on the IHA website about why they feel an expanded Irish Hockey League will benefit the sport.

The Hook, meanwhile, have received a number of other submissions from around the country on how the proposal effects players in other provinces. Below is a flavour of the points raised.

** For more on the IHL debate, check out the following links:

– Quorum achieved for expanded IHL EGM but engaging clubs remains tough ask
– How social media reacted to the IHL debate
– Ulster Hockey call on clubs to stay away from EGM
– Cooper calls on clubs to debate future of Irish Hockey League
– IHL to host EGM on future of the Irish Hockey League

Chris Blaney – Irish University and Colleges Hockey Association President
“From a universities perspective, a full IHL would suit university hockey clubs, as they tend to have an off-field support structure consisting of professional staff, ranging from physios to sport nutritionists. It allows our young elite hockey players to foster their growth in a supportive and in as near a professional set up as possible for an amateur sport. UCD ladies and men being a prime example of how a university’s existing structures can be turned into success on the field.

Banbridge club man Paddy Grimes is unsure whether he is pro or anti the proposal

Banbridge club man Paddy Grimes is unsure whether he is pro or anti the proposal

“At some stage, our university careers end. At this point, players then leave to join other top level clubs in the country, bringing with them their experience, some have even used their experience of the near professional training environment to make the hop into professional leagues in Europe, surely a statement of how good these players are.

“Retaining them would be a better option, however without a challenging national league, there is often very little to offer these players. When the vote comes, a yes vote will allow us to provide a more challenging and worthwhile national league for our young players and allow us to create a better national team.”

Paddy Grimes – Banbridge
“There is no doubt that, from a quality point of view, Banbridge men need the challenge of a full IHL but commercially, it could have ramifications for Banbridge as a club. We are dependant on other clubs bringing supporters to our club for matches and unfortunately, as the IHL has shown to date, not many supporters travel to away games in other parts of the country.

“That one fact brings me back to the principles on which the IHL was initially launched. One was that clubs would socialise with other clubs after games and maybe stay the night and so on. It has never happened! In fact, a lot of these principles, which were well intentioned, never happened.”

He adds that he felt Ulster Hockey had been “caught napping” following a consultation process a number of years ago in the province.

“It was aimed at changing the leagues in Ulster which everyone felt had become a little non-competitive and stale. Despite consensus for change, Ulster Hockey have not acted and thus have not offered a viable alternative to the proposals put forward by IHA.

“They are now panicking as a full IHL, in my opinion, will mean the start of the end for branches. The approach of Ulster Hockey in trying to dictate to its clubs is sad and wrong. I feel that it has only caused to make clubs question the branch more and may do them long term harm.

“The one thing that disappoints me about all of the discussions around a full IHA is that there has been no move to offer of inclusivity. Why should Portrane, Limerick or Portrush not be allowed to play in an IHL? Why can we not have ten divisions? As the current proposals stand, 95% of the country is in no way interested in the debate.

“My own club has a ladies team who have seen unbelievable progress over the last five seasons, but a full IHL will stop this progress in its tracks. That disappoints me.

“In a time when hockey is vasty over-administrated throughout the county, it is also disappointing that dialogue could not have reached a mutually agreeable solution. All of these administrators and over the last three years since this idea first raised its head in a serious way, they could not have found a way around the current ill-feeling that has engulfed the sport.”

“As for Irish Hockey, they offer a number of reasons why a full IHL is a must. Some of these reasons are valid indeed. However, I would question why they think they can gain sponsorship for a full IHL so easily when, since its inception, they have failed to find a sponsor for the men’s IHL and sponsorship for the men’s senior irish team is also proving hard to get.

Greenfields have benefitted hugely from IHL involvement

Greenfields have benefitted hugely from IHL involvement

“I read a great tweet from an ex-international player asking if a full IHL would create a ‘Munster scenario’ in the branches where all of the other clubs who are not participating effectively start to drop away and maybe even cease to exist. Its an interesting thought. And could in my opinion happen.

“As for me, the prospect of a full IHL would leave me with a choice to make. I coach school hockey which takes place on a Saturday morning until 12 noon. So a full IHL would mean that I would be unable to offer the commitment to either the school or the club.

“Thus one would have to give. Especially in Ulster, where school hockey involves a lot of players and coaches from the club scene, particularly on the women’s side. I don’t think that this is a question that has ever been addressed by the IHA despite them being asked numerous times.

“I personally feel that it should eventually happen. But is now too soon? Maybe so. A lot of questions remain to be answered. But without the possibility of dialogue, particularly with stubborn Ulster, what other alternative do the IHA have but to try to force the change through.”

Shrew Power – UCC
“It’s an exciting prospect for us in UCC as we have qualified for the current IHL this year. We would relish the challenge of mixing it with the best week in week out. I believe hockey would grow and go from strength to strength with the introduction of a full IHL.”

Andrew Corry – Instonians
“In my opinion anything that increases the marketability of hockey in general can only be a positive development, for what is a minority sport in this country.

“From a non-elitist point of view, I believe the two tiered option is the best solution for all stakeholders as it will provide a vital link between the IHL1 and the provincial leagues to ensure the so-called smaller clubs don’t suffer and get left behind, as it is imperative we protect the future of all the hockey clubs in Ireland.”

Ali Smith – Bandon
“You only have to look at other countries around that are successful in the sport to see that a national league here would improve the profile of the sport in this country. We have the advantage of being a relatively easy country to travel around so traveling for games wouldn’t be a big problem.”

David Harvey – Pembroke
“Having played with C of I in the Munster league for a number of years I know myself and my former team mates know how frustrating playing in a league where you may have only two or three competitive league games per season.

“As a player you want to play the best teams every weekend. The only way an individual player and a team can get better is by playing the best teams each week. You learn more and develop faster as a result. Playing a game you know that you are going to win by seven or eight goals is not enjoyable and you get absolutely nothing from it.

“Now I’m playing with Pembroke in the Leinster league where almost every weekend you have a tough game. This is what every hockey player should want and look forward to. The future of Munster hockey is dependent on a full IHL, top Munster teams on their day are well able to compete and give any team in the country a run for their money.

“The reason Munster teams aren’t beating top Leinster and Ulster teams regularly isn’t down to ability. It is because they are starved of high quality games in their own domestic league. The pace of the game in Leinster and Ulster is played at a much higher rate and from what I have seen in my time playing in the Leinster league the teams are much more tactically aware of the game than teams in Munster.

“If Munster teams were exposed to this standard of hockey on a weekly basis this can only be good for them and for Irish hockey.”

Deirdre McDermott – Greenfields coach
“A full Irish Hockey League will be challenging for a Connacht based club but we in Greenfield’s have benefited hugely from our involvement last season in the IHL. Both individually and collectively our players have improved from competing against the top clubs in the country in five matches.

Former Irish international Mark Raphael is pro-expansion

Former Irish international Mark Raphael is pro-expansion

“In a full IHL in year one, a Connacht Club side would be playing 18 IHL matches which will definitely improve our players and inspire younger players to want play at this level. In the current day where hockey is competing with other sports such as soccer, GAA and rugby which have already All Ireland Leagues (AIL) it is vital that Hockey has an AIL to be able to compete with these sports for players.

“An AIL will also mean that Connacht based players can have the option to stay in Connacht to play their hockey rather than having no choice but to move to another province to play against the best teams in the country.”

Mark Raphael – Lisnagarvey
“As a wise man once said…. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

“The two main arguments I have heard against a full IHL have mainly been around player migration for the lower ranked teams and travel and my views on these are below.

“Player migration – I can understand that the lower ranked types of clubs have up and coming talent who they wish to hold on to and they may feel that a full IHL is more likely to prise them away from their club. Maybe there is an element of truth about this.

“I would suggest there are two main reasons why a good player would leave a lower ranked club (other than falling out with the coach/other players!) 1. They may feel that, for them to take the next step in their own career, they need to move to a bigger club. This may be due to them thinking there is better coaching/player commitment at a bigger club or simply as they would be in the limelight more for representative selection.

“2. They may feel that they have a better chance of winning something, or are keen to play in the bigger competitions. I would argue that both these reasons exist today and moving to a full IHL will have a marginal effect of increasing either of them.

“I think you could reduce reason 1 however its a different conversation than whether we should have a full IHL. This is a wider discussion in terms of identifying talent/regional technical coaching etc and I think to a certain degree it is in place currently within Ulster although there is always debate about whether youth coaching is delivering the correct type of technical requirements and within the right structure but that’s out of scope in terms of the IHL discussion.

“On reason 2 I don’t think there is a lot that can be done directly to reduce this, although addressing number 1 may indirectly have an impact.”

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