Hockey Ireland formally announced the make-up of the EY Hockey Leagues with a review set to take place “in the coming months” regarding the format and regulations in time of the 2021/22 season.
The governing body confirmed there would be no promotion and relegation from the top tier from the 2019/20 season and there would be no change in format to the controversial second level of national competition.
There will, however, be a change in line-up in EYHL2 with entries being based on the mathematically determined finishing positions in the regional leagues.
In the women’s competition, Galway will replace Greenfields as Connacht’s second qualifier in the one change to the ten entries from last term.
For the men, Portrane will be invited ahead of Avoca, continuing a remarkable rise for the Fingal club from Leinster Division 5 to the national stage. Bandon replace Cork Harlequins as Munster’s second seed, much to the latter’s chagrin given they were leading their EYHL2 group when lockdown came.
It had initially been thought both the incumbents and those in the qualifier positions would be invited, boosting the women’s competition to 11 teams and men’s to 10, but that has not proven to be the case.
The lack of change or completion of a review, meanwhile, will be a cause of frustration for clubs and provincial branches who have called for a consultation since the 2019/20 season was called to a halt.
In April, a group of eight women’s clubs in EYHL2 and a selection of men’s clubs called on the governing body to overhaul the second tier, moving to a “full-season” format.
Currently, the competition exists in addition to provincial leagues, giving squads up to 30 games before cup and indoor hockey is taken into account over a 27-week season.
Monkstown coach Simon Lowry says player welfare is being “totally disregarded” while Lurgan’s Robbie McMinn described the lack of review as “ludicrous” on social media.
So no relegation this year from EYHL1 but @Cork_Harlequins men have been dumped out of EYHL2 despite leading their group at the time the season stopped? @Munster_Hockey & @irishhockey a bit of a ridiculous situation do you not think????
— Robert J O’Sullivan (@robj2k) August 5, 2020
Provincial representatives from Leinster, Munster and Ulster all called for club concerns to be taken on board.
A circular from the Leinster branch said there was “overwhelming support” for change with over 90% backing the full season proposal in separate polls conducted in April and July which they communicated to Hockey Ireland.
“In the absence of a review and, as there is ‘no time to introduce any changes’ the EY2 league will be reconstituted in line with the existing rules,” the Leinster statement read.
“We know that this will be disappointing for many and we share the concerns of clubs, players, coaches and parents regarding player welfare and number of games that those clubs involved in EY2 are required to commit to on an annual basis. We will continue to advocate on your behalf at national level so that these concerns are addressed.”
Malcolm Coombes, from the Munster competitions committee, says the southern province requested a full review of the whole structure of national leagues over the course of the summer.
IF this ends up being the case, player welfare totally disregarded here. 30+ games in current season not feasible. Total lack of consultation with ppl who have been involved with current format for 2 years🤦♂️4 months since clubs asked for review, is that really not enough time??⏰
— Simon Lowry (@SimonLowry2) July 31, 2020
“In preparation for a review we thought was coming down the tracks, we sent a survey to all our clubs to see if there was an appetite for change,” he said. “Included was a question of whether they think EYHL2 should go to a full season league.”
From their initial canvas, a majority of the Munster clubs are not in favour of the full-season proposal but Coombes added that they wanted clubs to know what they were playing before season’s start what positions qualify for what in 2021/22.
Similarly, Ulster Hockey chairman Billy Pollock added that his branch made an urgent plea for clarity in both May and June over recommendations made by the Hockey Ireland Competitions Working Group to the governing body’s board.
Nonetheless, the confirmation of invitations for next season means the branches can now get on with the business of organising their domestic leagues.
Leinster, for example, usually finalise their divisions by May but had been waiting to see if several clubs were to be pulled from their leagues for national competition.
Men: Annadale, Banbridge, Corinthian, Glenanne, Lisnagarvey, Monkstown, Pembroke, Three Rock Rovers, UCD, YMCA
Women: Belfast Harlequins, Catholic Institute, Cork Harlequins, Loreto, Muckross, Old Alex, Pegasus, Pembroke, Railway Union, UCD
Men: Clontarf, Railway Union, Portrane (Leinster), Cork C of I, Bandon (Munster), Cookstown, Kilkeel, Instonians (Ulster)
Women: NUIG, Galway (Connacht), Corinthian, Monkstown, Trinity (Leinster), UCC, Cork C of I (Munster), Queen’s, Ards, Lurgan (Ulster)