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So, how do you solve a problem like Cookstown?

By Graham Hamilton

You may recall the reality television programme ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?’, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber to find someone to take the lead role in his stage production of The Sound of Music.

Well, that title may well cross the minds of Ulster Hockey’s Management Board when they sit down and ask themselves, how do you solve a problem like Cookstown?

The Co Tyrone team’s failure to beat UCD in last weekend’s IHL play-off means that they have been relegated from the all-Ireland set-up, along with bottom-placed Annadale who suffered the drop a couple of weeks ago.

Although Instonians won their play-off series to get promoted, two coming down and one going up is going to leave the Ulster Premier League top-heavy and with an odd number of teams.

The Belfast Telegraph highlighted the possibility of this raising its head as far back as mid-October and not many believed it would happen — but sure enough, the worst scenario is there for all to see.

The current Premier League is a ten-team format but Inst going up and Cookstown and the Dale coming down would leave an unbalanced 11, and a team left without a match each week.

There’s no way the Board can suggest relegating second-bottom team Newry to bring the numbers back to 10.

And to promote an additional team from the Senior League to make it a 12-team format is unthinkable — it would leave that division with just seven.

Yes, there are four clubs who play in the Junior Leagues and could step back up — but that won’t happen unless they have access to synthetic pitches.

There are also some who feel that as Annadale and Cookstown chose to leave the Ulster set-up to join the IHL, they should re-start in the Senior League instead of the Premier, although this is probably unlikely.

It seems there’s no clear cut answer, with the best option the unbalanced 11 teams.

One way or the other, many talented players won’t be playing on the all-Ireland stage.

This includes two of Cookstown’s long-serving stalwarts, goalkeeper Ian Hughes

(left) and former international midfielder Andy Barbour, and also the handful of rising talent within the Annadale squad.

Finally, it’s the Ulster Hockey Finals this weekend, with the men’s Junior Cup, McClements Cup and Minor Cup deciders all taking place at Playball, Stormont on Saturday, and the Anderson Cup decider on Sunday.

It’s also junior inter-provincial weekend in Sligo with Ulster Juniors taking on Leinster and Munster on both Saturday and Sunday.


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