All-Ireland league's new Division Two given green light
The EY Irish Hockey League is to have a second tier by the start of the 2018-2019 season. But unlike the current all-Ireland set-up, the new Division Two will be played on a home and away pool basis, and will run in parallel to the provincial leagues with games interspersed throughout the season.
With regards to Ulster, the additional matches served up by the new set-up will be a further headache for an already busy men's fixtures secretary Raymond Hughes.
That's because three men's teams from the province will take part in the eight-club Division Two set-up and three women's teams in a 10-club set-up.
Inez Cooper, Chair of the IHL Working Group, explained: "A review panel was established to examine feedback from the open forum conducted back in March.
"And a number of issues were identified, especially in relation to addressing potential growth in the gap between EYHL and provincial league club sides. The panel was of the view that the introduction of a Division Two would address the top concerns.
"These included better preparation of provincial league clubs for playing in the EYHL through exposure to sufficient level of competitive matches throughout the season; help ambitious clubs with player retention/migration as well as help in finding new sponsors who want to invest in their growth story; and finally to help demoted clubs bridge back into the EYHL quickly."
The idea is that the new Division Two will be played in pools, with clubs playing on a home and away basis with the top two in each pool qualifying for the finals. The winner will automatically be promoted to the IHL's top tier and the runner-up will play the ninth-placed team from the top division in a promotion/relegation play-off.
Each year Division Two will be reconstituted, based on finishing positions in the provincial leagues.
That kicks in for the 2018-19 season but, for this campaign due to start next month, provincial clubs will not only be competing in their provincial league but also for the current IHL provincial play-offs and the new Division Two.