Harte pleads for extended winter break

Conor Harte has added to the growing volume of Irish hockey players calling for a proper winter break following another weekend of widespread cancelations.

It is a worsening problem over the last three seasons with the introduction of the all-Ireland EY Hockey League with matches in Ulster particularly affected by frozen conditions that render astroturf pitches rock-hard and unplayable.

Last weekend, his former club in Dublin, Pembroke, had both their men’s and women’s trips north cut short with Lisnagarvey and Belfast Harlequins both iced out.

It leaves Garvey with three league games and one Irish Senior Cup tie — originally due to be played on November 25 — to make up while Belfast Quins have played just seven league games since September.

Reacting to the situation on Twitter, the Kinsale man said: “Having played at home in Ireland for years and now seven years in foreign leagues, I cannot understand why Ireland is the only European hockey-playing country to pursue playing outdoor hockey fixtures in December and January.

“In 2008 with Pembroke, we hired and paid for two buses on our way to Belfast. We got halfway to be told the game is cancelled. At the second attempt, we arrived at the venue to have a pitch inspection and have the game cancelled.”

In Belgium, where Harte plays with Racing Club de Bruxelles, the first half of the season ended on November 19th and is set to restart on February 18. In Germany, the hiatus runs from the end of October until March.

It allows the national team to go on warm-weather training camps without affecting the club schedule while indoor leagues can also take precedence.

Currently, Irish indoor leagues are run in parallel with the outdoor ones with the Ulster and Leinster leagues coming to a conclusion a day after scheduled outdoor games.

In recent years, Hockey Ireland has introduced bad weather protocols.

The onus is on clubs to have officials present for pitch inspections prior to confirmed departure times for the visiting clubs to ensure no wasted journey.

When this does not happen — as happened with Bandon’s fruitless Irish Hockey Trophy trip to YMCA — the host club will be fined with the money going to the travelling club.

It does not solve the issue of fixture backlogs with Belfast Harlequins scheduled to play the first of a number of double-headers next weekend.

“So many cancellations affect so many clubs and future fixtures,” Harte said. “Why should teams playing in amateur leagues have to play double-header weekends to rush the season and be finished by April, waiting for the new season to begin again four or five months later?

“Encourage indoor hockey and grow our game. No one enjoys playing and training in one degrees and speculating if their game will actually be played or if they can train on a frozen pitch.

“Give clubs and players a winter break, play some indoor hockey (which has massive benefits). A winter break is needed. Ask anyone what weather they would prefer to play/umpire/spectate/support hockey in?”


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