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Ulster Hockey's Raymond Hughes issues plea to ease fixture pile up

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Geoff Clarke, son of the late Carson Clarke, presenting the Carson Clarke Trophy to Queen’s captain, Calum Mitchell. The trophy was last played for in 1998 and was recently returned to the Branch

Geoff Clarke, son of the late Carson Clarke, presenting the Carson Clarke Trophy to Queen’s captain, Calum Mitchell. The trophy was last played for in 1998 and was recently returned to the Branch

Geoff Clarke, son of the late Carson Clarke, presenting the Carson Clarke Trophy to Queen’s captain, Calum Mitchell. The trophy was last played for in 1998 and was recently returned to the Branch

Ulster hockey fixture secretary Raymond Hughes has accepted that it's now impossible for the Premier League programme to be completed by the March 7 deadline and has issued a plea for a second time to the Irish Hockey Association to put back the Irish Hockey League Wild Card play-offs.

Since first requesting the postponement, Hughes has lost another handful of matches to the weather and another following the unfortunate passing of Mossley chairman Trevor Lorimer, with the result that too many teams would need to clear up half of their league programme inside a month - an unacceptable scenario.

"I'm hoping for a favourable response, especially as the loss of matches over the past few weeks has left too big a programme to clear up," he said.

"It would mean teams having to play four games a week for a couple of weeks, which is not on, as High Performance Managers and coaches would be up in arms about that, as we try to protect against player burn-out."

Many believe the Wild Card play-offs are too early in the season, but things have been complicated by the international team having to take part in the World League 2 series at the end of this month and hopefully the World League semi-finals tournament in June.

"If it's possible, the answer could be in putting the Wild Card play-offs back to the same weekend as the Irish Senior Cup semi-finals and final (March 28-29), although Railway Union could end up being Leinster's wild card team and they are already in the cup semi-finals," said Hughes.

Those few weeks would give the fixtures secretary more time to play with, and he could draw up a revised programme for the remainder of the season.

Banbridge coach Mark Tumilty agrees that the March date for the Wild Card play-offs is too early.

"It means that those teams not in the Irish Senior Cup or Irish Hockey League semi-finals will have their season completed by early March, and that's too early," he insists.

Meanwhile, Ulster's 'Big Five' are involved in Irish Hockey League action this weekend, with all to play for as they chase a coveted top-two finish in their pool to book a semi-final place.

The big game in Pool A sees Annadale take on Dublin giants Pembroke, and with Michael Robson back from international duty in South Africa, they're hoping that home advantage will help.

Cookstown and Instonians meet head-on, with a win a necessity for both, while in Pool B Banbridge head to Railway Union in Dublin knowing they must shake off any rustiness after being out of action for the past few weeks.

Also in Pool B, Lisnagarvey take on current leaders Three Rock at Hillsborough, and with internationals Jonathan Bell and James Lorimer available again, they can't afford to slip up.

Belfast Telegraph