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Will our rising hockey stars get chance in the Commonwealth Youth Games?

By Graham Hamilton

If Ulster Hockey officials have their way, there will be a Northern Ireland hockey team taking part in the Commonwealth Youth Games to be staged in Belfast in 2021.

At the moment, however, there are three major hurdles to clear - getting permission from the Irish Hockey Association; getting the go-ahead from the world's governing body; and finally making sure the Commonwealth Games Council include hockey among the participating sports.

At first glance those look insurmountable. But analyse the situation in more depth and there is an outside chance.

Ulster Hockey, of course, are under the Irish umbrella, and therefore don't have a world ranking to enable taking part in major international tournaments.

But the Commonwealth Youth Games are for Under-21s, and at the moment the IHA don't have this level in operation, so it wouldn't really affect their current structures.

Yes, it's still a big ask for them to give the go-ahead. But if they snub a request from Ulster, then it might be seen as denying young players the chance to play in a prestigious series on their own doorstep.

The better option by far would be to give permission - and it would go a long way towards good relations with Ulster Hockey after a certain amount of acrimony when the fully fledged all-Ireland League went ahead against their wishes.

If the IHA's permission was granted, then the world's governing body are unlikely to stand in the way - and so the first two hurdles could be cleared.

That would leave everything hanging on whether hockey is included in the Youth Games.

The Commonwealth Council has the biggest input, and hockey has always been part of the senior games - Great Britain, for example, were bronze medallists in Glasgow with Ulstermen Iain Lewers and Mark Gleghorne in their line-up.

But the host country also has a say, and part of the criteria is whether there is a likelihood of a medal and whether the infrastructure is in place.

Well, hockey here ticks those boxes, and many more. For a start the boys are the current UK School Games champions and many have already progressed to senior hockey including Banbridge Academy goalkeeper Luke Roleston, who is likely to be between the posts for the Banbridge club when they take on Monkstown in the all-Ireland League on Saturday.

Certainly if NI can finish ahead of England at schools level, then there is every chance of a medal in the Youth Games.

And the infrastructure is already in place - if a one-centre with two pitches, or two-centre with three pitches were required, we have it here within a short radius from Belfast.

And there you have it. Difficult, yes, but there is a glimmer. Now it's down to the Management Board in Ulster to start banging on the appropriate doors to try and make our rising stars' dream a reality.

Meanwhile, the next round of the Irish Hockey League takes place on Saturday and it's an important day for all four Ulster men's clubs.

Lisnagarvey go to Three Rock knowing a positive result will edge them closer to being crowned league champions.

Banbridge's priority is to reach the Champions Trophy play-offs and therefore can't afford to lose to Monkstown at Havelock Park a week after falling to Garvey. And Cookstown and Annadale face each other in back-to-back games over the next fortnight which will have a major bearing on relegation.

In the Premier League, Instonians go to second-placed Kilkeel on Friday evening knowing a positive result will edge them closer to the title.

Belfast Telegraph


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