Irish hockey will expand to include a full national league next season after a drawn-out debate was finally settled yesterday.
The 2014/15 campaign will see 10 teams compete in both the men’s and women’s Irish Hockey League, moving to an 18-game, full-season format that takes them out of their provincial leagues.
Eight more clubs will compete in an end-of-season playoff – known as IHL 2 – to determine qualifiers for the following season’s competition.
For the maiden competition, the men’s league will be comprised of the top four in Leinster and Ulster, Munster’s champions and a wildcard team. On the women’s side, Leinster’s top four, Ulster’s top three, Munster’s top two and the Connacht champions will get the first “full IHL” underway next September.
Representatives from 44 clubs attended an Irish Hockey Association EGM at the Stillorgan Park Hotel yesterday, and were asked to vote in two proposals for a full IHL. After much debate, an initial proposal suggesting two full 10-team men’s leagues was defeated as it had only a 51% majority (22 yes to 21 no with one abstention), well short of the 75% required.
However, the second proposal – which allows for the aforementioned IHL 2 to be an end-of-season competition – was carried comfortably with an 87% majority (36 yes, five no, three abstentions).
Ulster Hockey’s request to its clubs to stay away from the vote did not stop 10 clubs from attending. They voted in mixed fashion, but it seems the northern province’s tactics backfired as had just six more clubs attended and voted no, the proposal would not have been carried.
The province’s chief executive Angela Platt maintains they are not against change and will now work with clubs to discuss the way forward. There remain fears in Ulster that their schools system will be compromised by the new league and that provincial leagues will be diluted without their leading sides. While that carries some weight on the women’s side, it is hard to imagine Belfast Harlequins being too upset about not having to play Banbridge next season having lost 14-0 a couple of weeks ago.
Until now, Ireland had been the only European country without a full national league and avoiding those regional mismatches has been one of the primary drivers behind those who support a new format.
The Irish Hockey Association now hopes the new product will attract increased media attention and sponsorship – whether that can become a reality will have a major impact on the league’s success or otherwise – and should be easier to combine with an ever-more demanding international schedule. IHA chief executive Mike Heskin says attention can now turn to such matters, admitting: “We have ten months now to get this right. There will be difficulties and teething problems.”
Twitter reaction to the dawn of a full IHL
— Mick Mckinnon (@mickmckinnon) October 5, 2014
Serious questions need answered by @UlsterHockey this week about their advice to clubs re: IHL vote. Were they unaware of the 75% rule?????
— Annadale Hockey Club (@annadalehc) October 5, 2014
@News_Letter Ulster Hockey should go it alone. This will rip the Club structure to pieces.
— Sapere Aude (@thedissenter) October 6, 2014
— Jason Lynch (@JasonLynch7) October 5, 2014
Excellent points made at the @irishhockey EGM. Please let’s get the RIGHT people together & get these issues sorted ASAP so IHL can move on
— Andy Smyth (@smythandy) October 5, 2014
Step 2 is organisation and collaboration from schools, provinces and national setup #stillworktodo
— Eugene Magee (@Eugenemagee1) October 5, 2014