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Hockey: Ulster Branch ignored as full AIL is voted in

By Graham Hamilton

The Irish Senior Cup should have been the highlight for Irish hockey at the weekend, but instead it was completely overshadowed by yesterday's Extraordinary General Meeting which saw clubs vote in a full all-Ireland league set-up for next season.

The vote was very much against the wishes of the bulk of Ulster clubs, and indeed the Ulster Branch had requested its clubs not to attend the EGM as the result of the Irish Hockey Association almost totally ignored all the issues they had put forward.

But eight clubs did make the trip to Dublin's Stillorgan Hotel, joining the 35 from the south – some to listen to proceedings, some to voice objection and some, mostly leading clubs who want to face top teams on a more regular basis, to add their vote to the 'yes' camp.

The first option on the table failed miserably, with 22 for and 21 against, but the second option went through 36-5, and now the governing body will push ahead to put their plans into operation for next season.

Ironically, if the Ulster Branch hadn't asked clubs not to attend, it would have taken just six of them to vote 'no' and the 75 per cent target would not have been reached.

It now means men and women will each have a 10-team IHL division made up of the leading teams from each province playing each other on a home and away basis.

These teams can continue to take part in provincial cup competitions but won't be part of their league structure.

There will also be an IHL 2, taking in the next tier of eight teams who will come together over two weekends at the end of the season to decide who gets promotion. These teams will continue to play in their provincial leagues, but clearly these leagues will be somewhat diluted in the absence of their leading teams.

Where all this leaves Irish hockey remains a worry. Instead of unity, the proposals caused division between north and south, and also division within the north. Hardly the recipe to launch a new beginning, and a scenario which could have been avoided had the governing body bothered to listen to some of the Ulster concerns.

Chief executive Angela Platt – who had already said that the Branch isn't against change or, indeed, an all-Ireland league, but a handful of issues needed to be addressed and simply weren't – says the Management Board will convene soon and discuss the way forward.

"Clubs will be part of that process and we will consider what's best for Ulster and all its clubs," she said after the meeting.

Meanwhile, on the field the world hockey's oldest knock-out competition, the Irish Senior Cup, went ahead and six Ulster clubs go into the hat for today's second round draw – being staged in Dublin – Lisnagarvey, Banbridge, Belfast Harlequins and Instonians, who all won on Saturday, and Cookstown and Mossley who had received first round byes.

Annadale coach Andrew Smyth must have thought he was going to get a birthday bonus as his team comfortably held Garvey at Hillsborough but then two late goals from Andy Forrest and Dan Fleming gave the Blues a 2-0 success.

Bann striker Stephen Dowds scored his second double hat-trick of the season as a depleted Kilkeel team crashed 12-3 at Havelock Park while Harlequins squeezed through 2-1 at Civil Service when Mick McKenna and James Hutchinson scored their goals.

Instonians had four different marksmen as they won 4-1 at Cork Harlequins but Newry lost narrowly 2-1 at Corinthian.

Irish Senior Cup 1st round: Banbridge 12 (S Dowds 6, J Wright 2, M Bell, F Mills, D Ward, N Gilmore) Kilkeel 3 (L Russell, G Russell, M Henning); Lisnagarvey 2 (A Forrest, D Nelson) Annadale 0; Cork Harlequins 1 (J Dale) Instonians 4 (W Robinson, J Watson, A Patterson, S Kelso); Corinthian 2 (I Stewart, D Treacy) Newry 1 (J Taylor); Civil Service 1 (P Johnston) Belfast Harlequins 2 (M McKenna, J Hutchinson); Avoca 1 Cork C of I 4; Dublin YMCA 3 Pembroke Wanderers 4.

Linden Cup Pool A: North Down 1 (M Nicholls) Campbellians 2 (S McConkey, S McMillan). Pool B: Portadown 8 (S Johnston 4, R Bennett 2, J Curran, G Croft) Portrush 1 (L Smith); Queen's 1 (G Leckey) Antrim 1 (S McIlroy).

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