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Irish Hockey League is hurting game in Ulster, warns Knipe after Garvey rout


Warning shot: Jaime Knipe says standard in Ulster is dropping
Warning shot: Jaime Knipe says standard in Ulster is dropping

By John Flack

Portadown goalkeeper Jaime Knipe insists that the gap between the EY Irish Hockey League and the domestic game in Ulster will continue to widen following his team's crushing 17-0 Kirk Cup defeat by Lisnagarvey on Tuesday night.

It was only last season that the Ulster-based IHL clubs were allowed back into the domestic competitions like the Kirk Cup and Anderson Cup, after being excluded when the new league was introduced in 2015.

Knipe said: "Since the all-Ireland league's inception, we have lost players like Jamie Wright, Neil Gilmore and Zach McClelland, all of whom had Irish Under-18 or Under-21 experience, to IHL sides.

"Any players showing potential are being drawn to these three Ulster clubs, it's not sustainable and is killing the standard of hockey in Ulster, and this has created a huge gulf in class, leading to scorelines like ours."

Both Lisnagarvey and Banbridge, who sent Bangor crashing to a 9-0 defeat on the same night, fielded strong sides as they were preparing for Saturday's IHL openers against Pembroke and Monkstown respectively.

Ulster Hockey chairman Billy Pollock revealed that this was not the intention behind the decision to allow the big guns back into the local cups in 2017.

He said: "One of the arguments put forward at the time was that IHL clubs had much larger 1st XI squads of up to 23 players and, with few IHL matches and regular fixture gaps, many players were getting little match time.

"In 2017, it was emphasised the spirit of that change should be to allow those fringe players on the IHL squads the opportunity to play and to allow the international players time off.

"Over many years, there have been high-scoring defeats in the early stages of the Kirk Cup, but the gap is getting larger, therefore we suggest IHL clubs need to take on board the spirit of the 2017 change that we intended from the start."

Saturday's fixtures: EYHL: Corinthian v Annadale (2.30pm); Glenanne v YMCA (2pm); Lisnagarvey v Pembroke (3pm); Monkstown v Banbridge (2.15pm); Three Rock v UCD (3pm). Kirk Cup Pool A: North Down v South Antrim (2.30pm). Pool B: Ballynahinch v Instonians (1pm). Pool C: Cookstown v Antrim (2.30pm); Newry v Mossley (2.30pm). Pool D: Kilkeel v Queen's (1pm).

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