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Cup contests are placed on ice to allow for league revamp

 

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The long-running saga over the allocation of European places for next season has finally reached a conclusion and Lisnagarvey have been left disappointed.  (stock photo)

The long-running saga over the allocation of European places for next season has finally reached a conclusion and Lisnagarvey have been left disappointed. (stock photo)

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

The long-running saga over the allocation of European places for next season has finally reached a conclusion and Lisnagarvey have been left disappointed. (stock photo)

Two of the oldest hockey tournaments in the world have been put on hold until after Christmas to allow the main Ulster Senior leagues to be completed in a new format.

The men's Kirk Cup which has been part of the local calendar since 1897 and the women's Ulster Shield (1896), the finals of which are held on Boxing Day, will not now take place until the new year.

All the various knock out competitions, including the second tier men's Linden Cup and women's Senior Cup are likely to take place in 2021, pending a review of the position in January.

The new format will see the men's and women's Premier Leagues and the men's Intermediate League split into two divisions after each team has played each other once, similar to some local football leagues.

The previous structure involved teams in the top flights playing 22 matches, but under the new arrangement this will be reduced to 16.

That will be benefit the six Ulster teams, male and female, who are also taking part in the EY Irish Hockey League second division. When calls for a full season EYHL 2 from a majority of clubs went unheeded by Hockey Ireland, many of them expressed concerns about player welfare.

Although the situation could change next season, had Ulster Hockey not taken steps to address the situation, the teams concerned were facing the prospect of 30-plus games in the forthcoming campaign.

The local governing body will allow EYHL 2 teams to 'double up' and play their all-Ireland games and Ulster Premier league games as one, in order to reduce possible fixture congestion.

Explaining the rationale behind these steps, Ulster Hockey Executive Manager Marc Scott said: "The reasons for these recommendations are largely due to the ongoing uncertainty arising from the Covid-19 pandemic."

"The committee feels that the completion of the Premier Leagues should take precedence over Cup competitions, given the qualification process for EYHL 2 and the possible changes to that competition following the review of EYHL that is to be conducted over the coming months.

"Recommendations 3 and 4 (the 'split' and 'doubling up') are designed to both give an increased likelihood of the leagues being completed in the event of any further disruption; and to reduce the number of fixtures played by Ulster Hockey clubs that are involved in EYHL2.

"It is hoped that (the split) will also improve competitiveness in the league and reduce the number of high scoring/one sided results in the Intermediate League."

Belfast Telegraph