Players, coaches, administrators and umpires alike were faced with the scary reality that underage numbers dipped from 479 to 400 in just two years.
Things are better now; the numbers have crept back up to 496, the highest since records began in 2008. Hundreds more schoolboys are also being exposed to hockey via a variety of initiatives led by the Irish Hockey Association and some of the province’s more proactive clubs.
But the IHA’s western regional development officer Phil Oakley says there are still plenty of challenges; retention and recruitment are still the major buzzwords, along with a need to provide more competitive opportunities. Those issues and more are set to be thrashed out on Monday night, when a second Munster men’s and boys’ hockey forum is held, again at the Hibernian Hotel in Mallow at 7pm.
“The first major outcome of the meeting in 2011 was that clubs were doing little to actually actively recruit players and were basically taking what came through the gate,” said Oakley. “On the other hand, we are not retaining players for a variety of reasons. An IHA survey last year showed that for boys, the negatives included the profile and perception of the sport. We also know that a lack of competitive opportunities when compared to other sports was an issue.
“For example, if you play schoolboys football this year at U14 level, you would have played around 18 games coming into January, and in rugby you would be in an eight-team league with additional cup competitions and a significant number of friendlies.
“Our U14 boys have a league, but some teams have not even played yet this season, and some have only played one game to date.
“It is not difficult to see why children would choose other sports.”
There have nonetheless been some minor success stories recently; hockey is being played once more in Douglas Community School, a former mainstay of the sport, while enthusiasm has also been shown in Rockwell College and Crescent Comprehensive.
The return of Galway and Waterford to senior men’s hockey has seen the number of club teams rise to 26, the highest since the mid-2000s.