Beast from the East wipes out hockey schedule as Hockey Ireland consider winter alternatives

All of the weekend’s national and provincial level hockey fixtures have all been postponed.

For the women’s EY Hockey League, Hockey Ireland has given Sunday, April 22nd as the date for this Saturday’s round of matches to be played.

These games can be played before that date by mutual agreement between clubs with Saturday, April 7 currently an open date for clubs who do not reach the Irish Senior Cup final.

From a refix perspective, Hockey Ireland will be reasonably grateful that the men’s EY Hockey League is on hiatus this weekend with the national team in Malaysia.

They will play the host nation on Saturday on day one of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup before taking on Olympic gold medalists Argentina on Sunday. It is part of their ongoing preparations for November’s World Cup in India in which it was confirmed – as mentioned on The Hook in November – that Ireland will play England, Australia and China in the group stages.

All the games called off in the provincial leagues – as well as the semi-finals of the Irish Hockey Trophy – will be arranged between the clubs.

It comes during the most disrupted season since 2010 with widespread cancelations throughout December and January, too, which raised calls for a two-month winter break.

Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels said the competitions committee “have very much heard those calls” and are considering how they can implement a break. He added, though, that there are a lot of ramifications of extending the season further into May or June.

It would potentially mean less preparation time in camp for the national teams for their usually busy summer periods while more players asked to play their biggest matches in and around exam time.

“Maybe we are reacting to a particular winter where other years December and January are very playable while we are now in March and the most severe weather.

“How long do you stop for? If you base it on this year, you would not be able to play from December to mid-March which would be totally impossible. I don’t know exactly what the answer is but it needs to be looked at.”

Another element that Pels says needs to be explored is indoor hockey, especially in the wake of the amazingly successful Indoor World Cup and European Championships in Berlin and Brussels, respectively.

It is something that appears to be gaining significant momentum in Ireland with Ulster and Leinster Hockey running Under-18 tournaments while there has been a smattering of other underage events in addition to the annual Tommy O’Sullivan Under-14 tournament in Donabate.

“Indoor is an aspect of the sport that has been very successful for other countries and might be something that could be a very good thing for us to make more space for.”

Kinsale Hockey Club, for one, has used indoor to directly introduce new players to the game and Pels says that it can be an outlet to grow the game in untapped areas where full-size pitches are in scarce supply.

“We know going to the south and the west of Ireland, the facilities available for playing hockey is critical and we are running into problems. With indoor, we might be more flexible and so this might be a very good area for growing the game where we are hampered by infrastructure.”

Elsewhere, Banbridge was confirmed this week as the host venue for the EY Champions Trophy for the next two years.

Bann have proven excellent hosts in the past. They hosted the marquee event in 2016 while they also became the first Irish club to welcome a Euro Hockey League event in October of 2016, a ground-breaking event for hockey Ireland.

Speaking about the announcement, Mike McKerr, Country Managing Partner, EY Ireland commented “The club continues to make huge strides with the installment of a new pitch to add to its top-class facilities and consistently proves itself as a fantastic destination for the biggest hockey fixtures.

“As a firm, EY is extremely proud of our continued sponsorship of Irish hockey and look forward to what promises to be a highly competitive Champions Trophy event.”

Banbridge played the perfect host for the EHL ROUND1 in October 2016. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Banbridge Hockey Club President Roger Martin added: “With plans in place to start replacing our pitch at Havelock Park this week, hosting the EY Champions Trophy in May will be a fantastic way to launch our brand-new facility.

“We look forward to welcoming all the players and supporters here and it will be a big boost to the club and the whole Banbridge district. We will now be putting plans in place to ensure that once again we deliver a fantastic weekend.”

The finals weekend is scheduled for May 5 and 6 with the top three from the EY Hockey League along with the Irish Senior Cup winner on both the men’s and women’s side qualifying for the semi-finals.

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