Mick McKinnon, who guided Armagh from the seventh tier of Ulster hockey to the Irish League and also won numerous national titles with Railway Union, believes clubs that have seen their best talent move to EY Hockey League teams shouldn’t feel sorry for themselves.
The advent of a season-long, 18-game national league last season has seen clubs such as Cork Harlequins women and Lisnagarvey’s men benefit from a major influx of provincial club players who wish to compete at the highest level.
Annadale’s coaching director Andy Smyth has expressed fears that young players moving to EYHL clubs could hinder their own development if they fail to break into the first team, noting that just one of the 36 Ireland U18 boys squad members sees regular game-time at that level.
While McKinnon feels Annadale handled the departure of their own star player, Michael Robson to Lisnagarvey with dignity, he says sport is a “food chain” clubs must live and die by.
Citing his experiences at Armagh, McKinnon noted many players joined them from other clubs during their halcyon days in the 2000s, but now there are 10 former Armagh players lining out for EYHL sides while the club toils near the bottom of Ulster’s second tier.
“To imply it happens because of the introduction of the EYHL is wrong. It has always happened, and always will,” he wrote in his Hockey Coach Share blog. “Clubs have no right to feel aggrieved if this happens.
“It is far easier for a club to blame the players than to look at themselves and question why these players left. Were the club fulfilling their needs? Was the coaching of a high enough standard? Did they feel they could maximise their potential there? Clubs need to strive to provide for the needs of their players, be they aspirational or monetary, and if they cannot then they must accept that the players will look elsewhere.”
McKinnon adds smaller clubs need to double down on their own development work to create a “pack” of players who will stay together and bring the club to the EYHL under its own steam.
On the pitch, it’s a massive double weekend for Cork Harlequins women. They must negotiate Pembroke to keep up their EYHL title challenge tomorrow, before heading north 24 hours later to meet Pegasus in the semi-finals of the Irish Senior Cup.