Michael Houghton says he has hit upon a framework that will play a key role in building a long-lasting dividend from Irish hockey’s recent successes.
He has created a platform for five new clubs in north Munster in the past 12 months with Castletroy, Ennis, Thurles, Nenagh, and Tralee all set to host junior sections.
The basis for the first club came following a stint as Limerick Hockey Club chairman where waiting lists were in place due to limited pitch time and coaches.
It was something he felt had to be changed.
There was huge demand and no reason for it. I checked with Limerick Hockey Club if they were ok [to form a club based at UL] with it. I just put it out there and it quickly took off.
Castletroy had its genesis last December and affiliated with Hockey Ireland three months ago. It now has 100 male and female members taking part in Munster underage competitions this season from Under-9 up to Under-12 level.
While that has been a big success, Houghton — a tech entrepreneur by trade — had his interest piqued when Hockey Ireland development officer Phil Oakley mentioned a decade-long desire to form a first club in Clare, asking “can I have a crack at it?”.
He booked pitch time on St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield’s astroturf and, within five weeks, has 40 regular Ennis members and a crew of volunteer coaches.
It follows a template at Kinsale under the stewardship of Kieran Harte, father of Irish internationals Conor, David and Emer and something emulated at Baltimore in 2017. Traditionally, not having a full-size pitch was a limiting factor but, now, new clubs are finding alternative options to make hockey available.
“Growing up in New Zealand, we were never brought up on a [full] pitch. We did hockey in school halls or a tennis court or wherever. We utilised as much alternative pitch space as possible.
Matches do need to be on a full pitch but, for the juniors, they are playing blitzes at different venues and they are used to travelling so that is not a major barrier.
Houghton says there is already a demand for extra pitch time in Ennis while he anticipates big numbers at Nenagh College for open days in January.
He launched Nenagh’s sign-up site on Tuesday and already has close to 50 people registering interest, with several former players offering services as potential coaches with Hockey Ireland set to run introductory coaching courses.
It rides fast on the coat-tails of the Irish women’s World Cup silver medal and Olympic qualification.
“When the Olympic result came in, I immediately thought ‘that’s one more hockey club!’.
“You see the thrill from the kids when Roisin Upton ‘liked’ some of the Castletroy pictures [on Facebook].
“But these clubs aren’t forming because we are doing something particularly special. Kids are just getting hold of it and, and once they have somewhere to play, it gets shared in the WhatsApp groups and it suddenly takes off.
Loads of them have a good part of the skillset from hurling so it can be an easy game to transfer. It has those elements but without the contact and having to wear a helmet.
This latest bunch of new clubs increases the total number to 24 in Munster, up from 13 in 2010. The majority cater primarily for youth members with girls’ numbers doubling in that time.
The next mission for the province, like many sports, is to translate that into more adult players where numbers have been stagnant.
On the field this Saturday, Cork Harlequins host Pembroke (1.05pm) at Farmers’ Cross while Catholic Institute face Old Alex at Rosbrien (1pm) in the EY Hockey League.