Bell calls for 2019/20 season to be completed on the field as “finished” call creates debate

Lisnagarvey and Ireland player Jonny Bell insists Hockey Ireland have acted prematurely in ending the local and national league seasons.​

The sport’s governing body, after consulting the provincial branches, took the decision last week and will now explore alternative ways of deciding the various issues, including promotion and relegation and European places.​

So, while the competitions, including the top-flight EY Hockey League, haven’t been declared null and void, it’s understood the current placings will be used to determine the various finishing positions.​​

Lisnagarvey’s Jonny Bell. Pic: Adrian Boehm

That is likely to be based on some form of mathematical or statistical formula, perhaps based on a percentage of points won to games played although other alternatives are not, in theory, off the table.​​

When the leagues were deemed to be finished, Garvey were five points clear at the top of the Irish Hockey League standings with two games in hand but Bell would prefer the regulation season title to be decided on the pitch, not by committee.​

He said: “Obviously there is a mass hysteria at the minute with the coronavirus pandemic, and rightly so.

“It’s a very concerning situation but I didn’t think there was a need to make a call so soon.

“Okay, it’s March now, the [new] season doesn’t need to kick off until November like the women’s last year, so that gives us the chance to complete the leagues properly. ​​

“We were just getting to the business end of the season, the grand finale if you like, the run-in that everybody gets excited about – the clubs, sponsors the players – and we should be giving it every chance to be completed.

“Ultimately we have seven games left which is more than other teams but those could be played in three weeks with a double-header weekend, midweek games and then the play-offs in followed by the Irish Senior Cup semi-finals and finals.”

​​Banbridge coach Gordon Cracknell agrees with Bell that the decision to call time on the IHL and other leagues across the island was made with too much haste.

​​He said: “The call was made too soon, in my opinion, and a further suspension should have been introduced and then, we could have at least tried to finish this season’s league.

​”I think the idea of awaiting a possible resumption date would have been worth exploring as part of a graduated response but now it’s a recipe for controversy and discord.”​

Greg Thompson, coach of current EYHL women’s champions Pegasus, was also disappointed with the governing body’s stance. ​

He added: “While recognising these are very tough decisions to make, personally, I don’t think relegation and promotion should be decided in a boardroom, given the time and effort that goes into preparing for a season.”​

Belfast Harlequins ladies, who could well be relegated from the national league when the decisions are announced next month, are more philosophical in their stance.​

Team manager Roisin Walsh stated: “While the Hockey Ireland statement is confusing because it doesn’t give any answers, our view is that there is no point in speculating and it’s safe to say the ‘solution’ will not please everyone.” ​

Going down into the provincial leagues, Instonians official Tom Reid would prefer to see the season that has deemed to be ‘finished’ be declared null and void, which could still happen in theory.​

“The season should not be decided by the use of a statistical model. [My option would be that] the 19/20 season is null and void [and let’s start again] in August/September.

“Agree (it’s) difficult re EYHL 1 re places in Europe but don’t let that impact on all the other teams/clubs in Ireland.”​

Like Instonians, Cookstown were still in with a mathematical chance of securing a play-off place for promotion into EYHL before the season was scrapped. Here are the views of co-coach Michael Haycock.​

Pegasus coach Greg Thompson. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“Obviously, in the circumstances, the well-being of anyone affected by the pandemic, rather than hockey, is at the forefront of our thoughts.” he said.​

“However, like all other clubs, we’ll await the decision by the Competitions Working Group with interest.

​”It’s a very difficult job that they’ve been left with, but I’m sure they’ll take everything into account when coming to their decision about next season’s standings.​

“Obviously, we were determined to get back to the top table of Irish club hockey after a year away and results show that.​

“We had just gone top in the Ulster Premier League, having finally caught up on matches we had missed. ​

“We were looking forward to a semi-final against UCD in the Irish Senior Cup and it was balanced on a knife-edge in our EYHL 2 pool as well, with any two of Cork Harlequins, Clontarf and ourselves poised to go through.​

“How you make sense of all that is anyone’s guess. There are bound to be winners and losers in it all. My hope is that there will be an opportunity for a conversation between the Working Group and the clubs as that might help find a way forward.”

Let me throw in my two cents worth. I can’t for the life of me see why we can’t, at the very least, stage ‘this’ season’s various all-Ireland knock-out competitions as a preseason event.​

And, as Jonny Bell states, surely we can find some way of finishing the EYHL seasons for men and women.

The top-flight events require a different, less contrived solution, as places in Europe are at stake.​

From what I am told, though, whatever measures are used to calculate to finishing positions, they will be applied uniformly from EYHL right down to the bottom leagues across the island.​To conclude, here’s another idea.

The Irish Senior Cup, Irish Hockey Trophy and Challenge are all in their closing stages.​Why not have a bumper weekend or even two, say in August all things being equal, to play those competitions to a finish and factor in a few of ‘this’ season’s EYHL games at the same venue(s), probably in Dublin.​

That way you’d be guaranteed a big crowd, so charge a few euro admission. ​

I’ll go further and suggest the proceeds could be split between a contribution to our health service workers across the island and the Junior Age Group programmes to offset the huge financial outlay that the parents of our Under 16s and 18s are being asked to make to self-fund their children who play in the various national teams.

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