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Women's hockey: Fixture congestion concerns

By Ruth Gorman

Published 28/11/2007

Next weekend is massive in the hockey calendar with potentially three cup and shield matches scheduled over two days.

Saturday, December 8 starts it all off with the third round of the Belfast Telegraph and Bank of Ireland Senior Schools Cup when Ulster schoolgirls will battle it out to win a place in the quarter-finals of the much sought after blue riband competition.

The future stars of Ulster and Irish hockey often feature highly in this and the pressure will be on them to help their team mates progress.

Saturday afternoon sets the stage for the Irish Senior Cup quarter-finals and four Ulster teams are due to play - Belfast Harlequins or Pegasus, whose replay takes place Saturday, Ballymoney, Victorians and Randalstown.

Victorians is the only Ulster side to have an away draw at this stage of the competition.

The Irish Senior Cup is the most prestigious competition in Ireland and it's fantastic to see these four Ulster teams playing at this standard with hopefully one of them going forward and winning the final which would result in travelling to Europe.

Sunday, December 9 is the semi-finals of the Winemark Ulster Shield when the four top teams from Ulster compete for a place in the final on the December 29.

This tight schedule has caused some controversy between the clubs involved as they feel too much is expected from the young schoolgirls involved in all competitions.

One Ulster club spokesperson has said: "This is a very packed weekend and brings to the fore a few issues. Can we expect school girls who play for clubs to compete in possibly three high profile games?

"Schoolgirls are the future of hockey so do we risk burning them out by asking them to compete in three competitions over two days which can lead to both extra-time and penalty flicks?

"Do we ask them which games they will play in therefore leading to weakened sides or in some cases is the decision already made for them when one of the games is to be played on a Sunday and religious issues are brought into vogue?

"Taking schoolgirls out of the equation, the ISC and the Winemark Ulster Shield are two competitions which any club would like to have under their belt, but can you expect a team, for instance Randalstown, Ballymoney and possibly Pegasus, to turn out two winning performances on consecutive days while giving a display on the Sunday?

"Why play a semi-final on a Sunday? Surely there are enough Saturdays in the year for this to be played. One of the reasons behind this decision was to draw a large crowd to the venue at which both semis are to be played which is understandable, but could this not be done on a Saturday - the usual day associated with ladies hockey in Ulster.

"Some of the girls playing club hockey at present could have played representative hockey but due to their religious beliefs they could not go down this path so club hockey is the closest they get.

"Yes this is entirely their own feelings but why should they be left to feel that they are letting their club sides down for something which they feel so strongly about and why for just one game of the season, a semi-final, should they be discriminated against?

"We do appreciate all the hard work put into sorting out a playing schedule by the Ulster Women's Hockey Union Council, but could the Winemark possibly have been started earlier in September which could have freed up a Saturday potentially before Christmas holidays and then the final being played the week after?

"Or as with the case this year, if the Irish Cup dates change and two crucial matches are to be played over a weekend should clubs be better informed and a suitable date arranged?"

Belfast Telegraph

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