Ulster clubs considering breakaway independent body

Ulster’s hockey clubs are reportedly investigating the viability of forming a breakaway Northern Ireland Hockey Association.

The northern province’s governing body, Ulster Hockey, asked club and school representatives to consider the possibility at a recent meeting held to discuss the implications of the new Irish Hockey League format.

Next season sees the beginning of a “full” IHL, a 10-team league which will take the country’s best sides out of their provincial leagues and into a full-time All-Ireland tournament.

A number of stakeholders in Ulster feel the Irish Hockey Association ignored their concerns over finance, travel, player migration to bigger clubs and the impact on domestic leagues and schools competitions. Following a consultation period lasting over a year, the new format was voted in by representatives from 44 clubs at an IHA EGM in October, with an 87% majority after an initial proposal had failed to pass.

Ulster Hockey had asked its clubs to boycott that meeting, a strategy which ultimately backfired as those who supported the venture attended anyway while those who stayed away failed to influence the outcome.

Now, some of those schools and clubs who were upset at the IHA’s handling of the affair have, according to the Belfast Telegraph, expressed an interest at last week’s meeting — held behind closed doors — in Ulster hockey becoming independent.

Votes will be taken at another meeting next month on the various options discussed, but whatever comes of that, it appears sections of Ulster’s hockey fraternity have unfinished business with the IHA over the new IHL format.

Reaction to the idea of a Northern Ireland Hockey Association has been mixed, with some fearing international success will be harder to come by if the national side was split in two. Under any such restructure, both a Northern Ireland national side and its clubs would start at the bottom of the rankings, meaning it could be years before either competes near the top level, although competing in the Commonwealth Games could be seen as an attractive incentive.

Ulster Elks coach Ricky Lee questioned what moves have been made by the IHA to quell the Ulster concerns since the full IHL vote was taken two months ago, while also adding: “If we (Ulster) go it alone, how may Darron Gibsons would there be — born in Northern Ireland but opting to play for the Republic of Ireland? Particularly if they are already capped, and particularly if Northern Ireland are in the doldrums to start with.”

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