In recent weeks, the Leinster Hockey Association held a meeting with the men’s clubs with a few to how the branch will organise leagues for the 2015/16 season in light of the IHA EGM vote for an expanded, “full-season” Irish Hockey League.
At this stage, the men’s committee are collating suggestions with a view to putting forward proposals in the New Year. A similar meeting for the women’s side will be held on January 13 in Bewley’s Hotel, Newlands Cross at 7.30pm.This is an open forum for everyone to discuss options for possible changes to the current league structure with at least four – and potentially five – teams likely to be moved out of the provincial system.
The LHA stress: “it is vital all stakeholders attend as this is the only discussion meeting ahead of a recommendation being made to the LHA Board”.
It is in preparation for next season following the vote at an EGM in October with 84% of those voting in favour of the new IHL system. These numbers, though, are felt to be skewed by Ulster Hockey requesting clubs not to attend the EGM to exercise their vote, a situation which both the Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter have suggested ended up being a self-defeating process.
In the end, only two Ulster clubs voted against the proposal of potentially over 50 consituent clubs with as many of those attending either voting for or abstaining from the vote.
The shift sees the top men’s and women’s clubs taken out of their provincial leagues to play in the national competition, encompassing 18 league games over the course of the season on a home and away basis.
While the Leinster branch voted against the proposal, the meetings would suggest clubs and the branch are fully preparing for the changes.
In Ulster, though, debate is ongoing with calls for compromise from the IHA to move away from the proposed Irish Hockey League which has previously been branded as “divisive”.
This has led to heated debate with some reports suggesting Ulster Hockey could split from the Irish Hockey Association.
With this in mind, Instonians match secretary Andrew Dumican has written an open letter with an alternative proposal on an alternative IHL system that could help appease all stakeholders.
He says: “Like the majority of people in Ulster Hockey, I am dismayed by the attitude of the IHA in respect of the IHL. Despite both Leinster and Ulster branches voting against the proposals and the majority of UHU clubs being unable to cast their no vote, they seem determined to force it through.
“UHU continue to say that they believe an enhanced IHL is desirable but not at the expense of the UHU Premier League. I fully back this position.
“However, I believe we are now in a position where no one can be, nor should be, seen as winners and others as losers. Compromise is required on all sides and a meeting of minds. Clearly this can only be achieved if the IHA come to the table.
“I believe that a dual strategy is required: i) continue to strive for a compromise solution; ii) a contingency Plan if IHA refuse to negotiate.
“As an alternate to the proposal already put to IHA, I outline some thoughts that I have had in respect of same. These are to try and overcome some of the objections to the original proposal that I have heard, the main one of which is the home or away nature of the IHL and UHU Premier League and in no way undermine the tremendous work done to date by UHU.”
Dumican’s proposal is as follows:
“A full Men’s IHL has been passed at the IHA EGM involving 10 teams. As a compromise, this could be played as two groups of five home and away. I.e. eight group matches. End of season crossover semi-finals could follow together with finals resulting in a further two matches possibly over a weekend at a neutral venue.“The benefits are that the number of cross border games is reduced by up to five. However you have the excitement of an end of season finals weekend and no matches are ‘dead rubbers’.
“Restructure UHU Premier League to eight teams i.e. 14 games, Senior League 1 remains 10 teams and Senior League 2 increases by two teams. This will make all UHU leagues more competitive and improve standards.
“It benefits no one to lose by double figures and the current situation encourages top teams to hammer lesser teams as the Premier League can be decided on goal difference (last season). Although this reduces the number of Premier League matches by four it does not reduce the number of games far enough so that top players are not overplayed.
“Introduce double header results. Results in IHL matches involving Ulster teams, or indeed Leinster teams should they follow a similar model, also count as results in UHU Premier League.
On average, this should reduce the number of games played by UHU PL teams involved in IHL by a further four. Therefore, ignoring the IHL Crossover games UHU IHL teams should play approx 18 games, the same as being proposed now. However, non-IHL teams would only have 14 league games as opposed to current 18.”
Dumican also makes suggestions for a restructure of the Kirk Cup – equivalent to the Neville Cup in Leinster – and the Ulster Senior Cup to give more games to the non-IHL sides.
Dumican adds that greater flexibility over fixture scheduling is desired so “fewer matches have to be postponed due to the Irish Men’s Senior team’s commitments” while also suggesting that school’s hockey should be better syncronised with the Ulster Premier League and the IHL.
He concludes: “It would I believe be beneficial to share our thoughts with the Leinster Branch and seek to have their support for any compromise position even before we put it to UHU Clubs.
“It is essential that we continue to take the initiative and attempt through the media, both written and social, to be seen as constructive and forward thinking, rather than how we are currently being portrayed, although I note that efforts are already a foot to change this perspective.
“Is there a benefit in the branches, which have the inherent strength, having run grassroots, junior, intermediate and senior hockey from time immemorial, making a formal arrangement?
“Would the IHA deal differently with what they could clearly see as a unified opinion? This in no way is meant to be seen as a final proposal, but rather as simply some ideas for consideration on how we might reach a compromise position should the IHA ever engage.
“Should no compromise be reached, clubs who take part in the IHL should not be banned or sanctioned from competing in UHU competitions?”