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Ulster hockey chief: I had to resign over all-Ireland proposals


Stuart Macdonnell's resignation highlights the apparent differences that are starting to envelope Irish and Ulster hockey

Stuart Macdonnell's resignation highlights the apparent differences that are starting to envelope Irish and Ulster hockey

Stuart Macdonnell's resignation highlights the apparent differences that are starting to envelope Irish and Ulster hockey

Ulster Hockey - currently engaged in a consultation process with the Irish Hockey Association, the other provinces and its own clubs over the introduction of a full all-Ireland league set-up next season - has been rocked by news that the vice-chairman of their Management Board has quit his post as a result of those very talks.

Stuart Macdonnell's unexpected resignation highlights the apparent division that is beginning to envelope Irish and Ulster hockey, and administrators are hoping that this week's club forums - the first was held at Banbridge on Monday and the second is scheduled for Mossley tomorrow evening - will go some way towards galvanising matters and pointing the best way forward.

Macdonnell (pictured) is unquestionably for the proposed full all-Ireland league set-up and the timing of his resignation, ahead of the club forums, underlines that he is not happy at the direction being taken regarding Ulster Hockey's discussions in recent months about the IHA and the IHL.

"I have done this in sadness, conscious of the good work undertaken by all my colleagues on the Board under the committed leadership of Alison Wilson, together with the officers, ably led by executive manager Angela Platt," he says.

"But I believe the direction of travel in recent months is not destined for a place in the best interest of hockey, its players or clubs.

"For me, the basic task facing all hockey administrative functions is to enable all players to fulfil their potential at the highest level of which they are capable, and thereby achieve their ambitions, in what is a comparatively short first-team career compared with other 'professions'.

"In my view, the top players in Ulster are not currently sufficiently challenged in each fixture and the IHL model aims to address the lack of competitiveness, especially in the men's league where large score differences are almost normal. I see no prospect of an improvement in that position.

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"Legitimate issues about the IHL regarding affordability, logistics of travel, availability of school players etc. have been raised within the hockey family, though I believe with some creative thought all of these can be solved.

"More recently, I feel, rather than addressing these valid issues, we have spent too much time looking for loopholes in governance in order to thwart the current IHL model.

"I also fear there may become a connection between the IHL discussions and the notion in some circles of 'going it alone'.

"Given the huge costs of funding international participation at all levels for both genders, for which the IHA obtains funding support from two governments, and the published financial position of the NI Executive from whom Ulster Hockey receives the majority of its funds, I can see no prospect of delivering an affordable independent model, so I can see no sense in wasting valuable energy in pursuing this option.

"Likewise, the International Hockey Federation may see no good reason to change the licence which gives the IHA governance over international hockey in Ireland. This would then encourage elite players to migrate from the Ulster league to IHL teams - the very thing we are trying to avoid.

"And it would also leave Ulster/NI with a much reduced quality of player pool to select from, and so the attraction of seeing the Commonwealth Games as an achievable goal looks fanciful."

At the moment this season's IHL is nearing completion, with Banbridge men the best bet for an Ulster club to reach the semi-finals, while Pegasus could be the sole representatives from the Ulster women.

But it's next season that the new all-Ireland league kicks in and we won't know what the Ulster plans are until after the club forums and consultation process are completed.

Not everyone at club or indeed Management Board level agree with Macdonnell's reasons for resignation - he has since been replaced by Barry Feeney - but it highlights that the all-Ireland proposals have caused division rather than pulling everybody together.

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