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Clubs must take responsibility to end Ulster Hockey's double figure scorelines, says Parkview coach

 

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Team talk: Richard Cowan and his Parkview side

Team talk: Richard Cowan and his Parkview side

Team talk: Richard Cowan and his Parkview side

The head coach of one of Ulster Hockey's lowest-ranked teams says clubs must show ambition to end the mismatches blighting the province's senior divisions.

The sport's governing body in the province sent out three suggestions for the future of the domestic leagues in January amid concerns at the frequent heavy defeats being dished out.

In the men's top division, Ballynahinch lost all 17 league games they played this season, while in the second tier - the Intermediate League - Parkview were handed double-figure defeats by Antrim, Civil Service and Belfast Harlequins.

Those were the three toughest days of Richard Cowan's first season in charge, the Parkview coach a former international umpire and player with hometown club Banbridge.

As he continues to find his feet on the sidelines, Cowan does not yet know where his side will stand next season.

Ulster Hockey's three suggestions at the start of the year were to: A) continue with the current two-tier senior set-up; B) split the two divisions into three; and C) open the league structure once again to see first teams take on second, third or fourth strings from other clubs.

The final option would open the possibility of having two teams from the same club competing in the same division and would reverse the move taken to separate first teams in 2018.

It was then that Parkview were plucked from Junior Five, where they faced the likes of North Down Fives, South Antrim Fours and Bangor Fives, to be placed in Ulster Hockey's second tier.

While the potential for a full-season IHL2 further muddies the waters, Cowan is warning that reverting to the previous set-up of open leagues could stunt the progress of clubs such as his own.

"I don't think that's appropriate," he said. "We're a first XI, we want to have stature and status within the hockey community. We should be more ambitious. It's about long-term development and trying to close the gap.

"I don't want us to be getting hammered every week. It's about starting from the bottom and working the way up with youth development and player recruitment."

Parkview won two league games this season, both against bottom-of-the-league Saintfield, but also managed to push the likes of third-placed CI in single-goal defeats. It's those signs of early progress that Cowan argues must be given time to take root and flourish.

"From a coach's perspective, I always try to be as positive as I can," he explained.

"If you're getting beaten in five or six games on the trot, players become disillusioned and stop turning up but I keep telling them it's not the end product. We've only been working together for a few months and we're working towards improving. The boys are sensible and they all want to do well.

"We lost 15-0 at Harlequins and a week later went away to Civil Service and lost 4-0. We came off the pitch that day feeling we had done well. We managed to match them for most of the game and that was one of the best sides in the league.

"I'm only there one year but the fact the boys can do that shows some progress. We finished second bottom but, believe it or not, we weren't too far away in many of those games. We weren't camped in our own circle, we were attacking teams and causing a threat.

"Billy Pollock, the chair of Ulster Hockey, umpired some of our games and he would back that up. If we perform, we're pretty close.

"We have to try and close that gap ourselves. We can't sit back and say Ulster Hockey have to sort it out. We have to sort it out ourselves. We have to perform. If we need more players then that's up to the club to find them."

To that end, Parkview have launched a boys' development programme and also set up a three-year development plan in a bid to reinstate the men's defunct Second XI.

"It's about trying to move everything in the right direction," Cowan added. "All our players are here for a reason and they know what they have to do.

"Hopefully we can keep progressing. Then we assess it after three, four or five years and see where we've got to."

Ulster Hockey had been due to host a clubs' seminar in March, although in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with the mooted full-season IHL2, the path into the future is uncertain.

Belfast Telegraph