Munster’s women’s leagues will get a major overhaul next season after radical structural changes to the top tier were approved in recent weeks.
The province’s competitions committee have unveiled their blueprint for the game’s future at adult level, which aims to resolve a significant number of issues, in particular the lack of competitiveness for a number of teams.
Division 1 becomes a 10-team league with the promotion of Cashel/New Inn, but it is the creation of a Division 1B – incorporating all the first teams from other clubs – that provides the most intrigue.
Waterford, Tipperary and Belvedere move up from Division 2 alongside four Division 3 sides – champions Clonakilty, Dungarvan, Clonmel and Cobh. Bruff, Blackrock and Cork Wanderers make the jump from Division 4.
The teams in both divisions will play each other once during the first half of the season, with their positions at this point determining what happens next as the leagues split up.
Division 1’s top six will play each other again and fight it out for the league title and Irish Hockey League qualification berths, while Division 1B’s bottom six will play each other again with a league title on offer there too.
The bottom four in Division 1 and top four from Division 1B will form a new league, known as the Division 1 Challenge. Points will be reset to zero for each team, with the top four at the season’s end earning the right to play in Division 1 the following season.
Two new clubs who are entering teams this season – Crescent and Midleton – will begin life in Division 6, but they and any other fledgling clubs can move their first teams to Division 1B with agreement from the competitions committee, when they feel they are ready.
On paper, the move has positive connotations for a number of clubs. The top three teams of the past few years – Cork Harlequins, UCC and Catholic Institute – get their wish of more tough games, and less of the double-digit thumpings they have inflicted on the likes of Fermoy and UL.
Those at the lower end of Division 1 still have the opportunity to test themselves against the best before finishing their season in a more competitive league, while the new structure also allows the mid-table sides – Cork C of I, Ashton and Bandon in recent years – a shot at IHL qualification.
For those making the step up, it is likely to be a baptism of fire but many are well-equipped to handle it – Clonakilty won a national title, the Irish Hockey Challenge, in just their third year of existence and have been promoted back-to-back, while Blackrock are Munster’s fastest growing club, having expanded from one team to three last season.
Second XI’s in Division 2 may be somewhat unhappy about seeing weaker teams nominally move ahead of them – in truth, the standard in Division 2 is likely to be better than that of Division 1B.
However, not a massive amount has actually changed for these sides, who were unable to be promoted in any case, will play most of the same teams as last season and can still aim for a strong Irish Junior Cup run.