Dispute over umpires' pay set to disrupt league start
The new Irish Hockey League programme begins on Saturday but, amid all the razzmatazz of the launch, it looks like clubs will struggle to source umpires for the opening round of fixtures.
The Irish Hockey Umpires' Association and Hockey Ireland's board have been at an impasse over what steps need to be taken to achieve fair recompense for commitment and time, to recruit new umpires and to retain current umpires, so as to build a brighter future.
Part of the umpires' grievance is that, compared to other sports, their reward for dedicating more than six hours between travel and game time at national level is only 20 cents per kilometre expenses with an additional €20 if you travel outside your province.
This is a pittance compared to football, rugby, GAA, cricket and basketball and they believe this is a contributory factor in the decline of qualified officials which in itself is alarming.
Accordingly, the IHUA want to introduce a €70 fee per team per IHL match and €55 for other Irish cup competitions but Hockey Ireland argue that they would need a Special AGM to discuss that as they feel such an issue isn't included in the rules and regulations of what is a volunteer-driven sport, and the likelihood is that clubs would turn it down anyway, due to finances.
And so, at this stage, no umpires have been appointed for both the men's and women's opening IHL fixtures.
Hockey Ireland's contingency plan is to ask clubs to source their own club umpire to cover these games - but these officials are already IHUA members and the chances are they'll back their executive committee's decision.
Naturally, the governing body are anxious that there won't be any disruption to the planned start date but although both parties have agreed to have talks, it seems unlikely that anything will be resolved before the weekend.
IHUA chairman Warren McCully insists Hockey Ireland have had numerous chances to address the issues but hopes that something can be resolved.
"We welcome the offer of talks but remain concerned about the lack of urgency which means it might be difficult to resolve matters for this weekend," he said.
The only game north of the border on Saturday involves Ulster rivals Banbridge and Annadale at Havelock Park, while newly promoted Cookstown head south to Cork C of I without Godfrey Irwin (broken thumb) and Keith Black. Lisnagarvey's game at Pembroke has been put back one week.
Kirk Cup pool games also take place on Saturday, with South Antrim entering the fray for the first time with a trip to Kilkeel while North Down begin at home to Civil Service. There are also three Linden Cup ties.
MEN’S SENIOR FIXTURES
TOMORROW: Kirk Cup: Queen’s v Belfast Harlequins (7.30pm)
SATURDAY: IHL: Banbridge v Annadale (2.45pm); Cork C of I v Cookstown (2.30pm); Railway v Monkstown (2.40pm); Three Rock v Glenanne (3pm)
Kirk Cup: Kilkeel v South Antrim (2.30pm); Newry v Mossley (2.30pm); North Down v Civil Service (4pm)
Linden Cup: Ballynahinch v Cliftonville (1pm); Raphoe v Armagh (2.30pm)