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Ulster set to offer its IHL teams an olive branch

 

By John Flack

Ulster Hockey's management board is set to table a motion at the sport's annual general meeting next month that, if carried, would see the province's Irish Hockey League teams re-admitted to the domestic knock-out competitions.

If the new proposal is voted through by clubs and other mandated representatives, teams like Pegasus and Ards ladies along with Lisnagarvey and Banbridge men, all of whom have retained their places in the all-Ireland next season, would be eligible to take part in tournaments like the Ulster Shield and Kirk Cup, the group stages of which kick off the domestic campaign in September. In the first two seasons of the expanded 10-team 18-match IHL format, this has not been the case following a decision that was passed by the governing body and a majority of clubs.

This development did not go down well with the clubs concerned, who felt they should have been permitted to play in the local competitions, like their IHL counterparts in the other provinces.

But now, it seems, the new board is to take the lead although, of course, there is no guarantee that the motion will be passed at the AGM.

Opinion remains divided and several non-IHL cubs would prefer that the status quo be maintained, pointing out that they have lost players who have been snapped up by the bigger guns, the player migration having lowered the standard of the Ulster Premier League.

Pegasus coach Ali McNeill feels the possible re-admission of clubs like her own into the Ulster Shield is a side-issue and believes consideration should be given to a more radical idea.

"Personally, I'd be in favour of the IHL clubs returning to the Ulster Premier League and playing in the IHL as well under a different format," said McNeill.

"Perhaps we could have more teams playing in the IHL but with fewer matches to facilitate taking part in both local and all-Ireland leagues.

"I think we should consider having several groups in the IHL, with fewer out of province games and then knockout quarter-finals involving the top finishers across the board.

"It's meant to be an all-Ireland league but we could have seven Leinster women's teams out of 10 competing next season, so I'd be in favour of giving another Munster team and one from Connacht the chance to take part in a re-formatted IHL."

Ulster Elks manager John Cathcart - whose team was relegated back into the Ulster Premier League from the IHL - is another in favour of an about-turn.

But he would like to see a quota system introduced by restricting them to the use of just nine or 10 of their registered IHL players.

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