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Memorable milestone on the horizon for Eugene Magee

By Graham Hamilton

Ulster's most capped Irish international Eugene Magee is edging closer to the 250 milestone - but he'll have to wait until after the World League 2 series at Stormont to cross that barrier.

The Banbridge seasoned campaigner is on 240 caps but the World series, which begins on Saturday and runs to the following Sunday, will see him add just another six to his tally.

"Just another reason to make sure we qualify for the summer World League 3 series, which is the final World Cup qualifier," said Magee, who is enjoying life as a striker after years of being the midfield engine.

In fact, Magee will have a young strike force surrounding him, with Johnny McKee, Jamie Wright, Jeremy Duncan and Matthew Nelson having only a mere 23 caps between them.

Ireland, who need to finish in the top three, play their pool campaign against Ukraine on Saturday, Austria on Sunday and Italy on Tuesday with the crossover quarter-finals on March 15.

Meanwhile, hockey is set to receive a significant increased offer of investment to reflect the recent success and improved world ranking of both the men's and women's national squads, and the substantial contribution from Ulster players.

But it's not all good news, and Ulster Hockey has confirmed its main stakeholder and investor - Sport Northern Ireland - has indicated a reduction in funding for the incoming financial year.

Indeed, it looks like the funding line sees further reductions over the next four years.

A few weeks ago, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that High Performance Manager Stephen Watt was likely to be a casualty as a major review of operations and structure got under way.

And indeed, Watt has now confirmed he will be leaving at the end of this month.

A statement from the province's board admitted that hockey overall - Hockey Ireland and Ulster Hockey - has received an indicative award from Sport NI and is in discussion to agree targets and the level of actual award going forward, but it was likely to be increased investment.

"Unfortunately our main stakeholder and investor - Sport NI - has also indicated a significant reduction in funding for Ulster Hockey for the next financial year and the next four years planning period," it said.

"There is a direct impact from the approach undertaken by Sport NI and Hockey Ireland with regard to funding for High Performance Management.

"Within the submission process Ulster Hockey bid to maintain a provincial element of High Performance Management.

"Funding was not approved and we await the top/down planning from Hockey Ireland, who received a significant indicative funding offer via the 'Sporting Winners' investment programme for High Performance."

Ironically, the 10 Ulster players in Ireland's squad for the World League 2 series all came under the wing of High Performance Manager Watt at some stage.

Belfast Telegraph

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