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Ulster Hockey funding cuts will lead to big changes

By Graham Hamilton

Ulster Hockey is set to undergo restructuring in the event of a projected cut in its funding. Consultations are taking place with staff as part of a review and among the posts earmarked for change is that of High Performance Manager, a role which has been held by Stephen Watt.

The review comes at a time when the sport expects a reduction in funding - a tad ironic considering hockey's profile is at an all-time high.

There were nine Ulstermen with Ireland at the Rio Olympics and four with Great Britain, while the Irish men are current European bronze medallists and ranked at 10 in the world.

The Irish women have about six of their squad from Ulster, and recently won the World League 2 series, and are hopeful both themselves and the men can make it to the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.

High Performance Manager Watt, who has had many Ulster-based Ireland and England international stars under his wing, confirmed his post is one of those under review.

"Yes, of course it is disappointing but if the powers that be don't want you, there isn't much you can do about it," he said.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all the players over quite a number of years now.

"The support from the various management team members and parents of the players has been terrific and hopefully how we have gone about things has served the players well."

Executive manager Angela Platt was unavailable for comment but Management Board's acting chairman Billy Pollock confirmed a review was under way.

"In the event of a projected substantial cut in funding, we are undergoing a major review," he said.

Meanwhile Banbridge have a chance to extend their lead at the top of the Irish Hockey League ahead of a four-week break due to international commitments.

Bann are two points clear and host mid-table Pembroke on Saturday while their four main rivals face each other.

Lisnagarvey (third) are home to Cork C of I (fourth) while Three Rock (second) take on Monkstown (fifth) in a derby.

The Bann defence has been solid recently with towering goalkeeper Gareth Lennox hard to get past - he even saved a penalty stroke against Monkstown in the league last weekend.

Instonians, meanwhile, hope to build on their first win with another positive result from their trip to Glenanne.

In the Ulster Premier League, leaders Cookstown became the first club to reach a century of goals this season, with Jonny Ames having the pleasure of claiming the magical 100th, but they, along with Kilkeel, have no game this weekend.

That gives Annadale the chance to close the gap this evening when they visit Mossley.

And it's Irish Hockey Trophy on Saturday and Ulster could end up supplying both finalists - Queen's and South Antrim meet in one semi-final at The Dub and North Down go to Limerick in the other.

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