Belfast Telegraph

Irish Hockey League is 'sucking the lifeblood' out of domestic game in Ulster, says coach

 

Treble ahead: Philip Campbell hit a hat-trick for Queen’s
Treble ahead: Philip Campbell hit a hat-trick for Queen’s
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Goal celebrations for Queen's Philip Campbell during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch A second goal for Queen's Philip Campbell during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Goal celebrations for Queen's Philip Campbell during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Goal for Queen's Philip Campbell during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Ryan Wolsley and Ballynahinch's Andrew Mulholland during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Thomas McRoberts and Ballynahinch's Matthew Martin during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's David Reid and Ballynahinch's Ashley Brown during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Brandon McEvoy and Ballynahinch's Luke Curry during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Ben Alford and Ballynahinch's Joshua Higginson during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Richard McCracken and Ballynahinch's Adam Dodds during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Philip Campbell and Ballynahinch's Andrew Mulholland during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 4/1/2020 Queen's v Ballynahinch Queen's Ben Alford and Ballynahinch's Joshua Higginson during today's game at the Dub. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

By John Flack

Queen's coach Billy McConnell believes the EY Irish Hockey League is having a detrimental effect on the domestic game in Ulster.​

He cites the loss of players to the clubs who compete in the top flight with the knock-on result of diminishing standards at local level.​

The full-season IHL was introduced four years ago and one of the concerns expressed by clubs at the outset was the prospect of player migration at the expense of the teams that compete in the various provincial leagues.​

McConnell, who won a bronze medal with Great Britain at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and also represented Ireland at the 1990 World Cup in Pakistan, also disputes the notion that the IHL is indeed a de facto all-Ireland competition.​

It's hard to argue with that theory as it is currently made up of seven clubs from Leinster and three from Ulster at present, with no Munster representation after Cork C of I were relegated last season.​

McConnell also insists that the IHL has not fulfilled one of its initial objectives of keeping the best players in Ireland and, again, the facts bear this out.​

Around half of the Ireland men's squad that competed in recent tournaments play their sport on the continent and not in the IHL.​

"One of the aims of the expanded IHL was to keep the best players in Ireland, so, if it was an experiment in that respect, it has failed," said McConnell.

"I am not blaming the IHL clubs for wanting to sign the best players, which is natural if they want to be competitive.

"But for clubs in the Ulster leagues, in the past you developed your own players. Now, however, it's as if you're almost​ developing them for someone else."

McConnell is sad at the demise of the Irish senior inter-provincial tournament which he believes should have been retained and indeed expanded as an alternative to the IHL - an idea which was also mooted by others before the new format came into place.

"To me, if we wanted to raise the standards, then the inter-pros should have been kept on and indeed expanded," he added.

"Before the IHL, we had Ulster selectors, very competitive games and a mechanism for the coaches to basically see a big group of players.

"The inter-pros were at one time a stepping stone to international hockey but now that's been taken away and the only place to be seen is in the IHL, hence players want to play in it and that's affecting the local game adversely in my opinion and sucking the lifeblood out of it.

"In addition, from season to season, clubs don't know how the local leagues will be divided up because you don't know who's going to be promoted to or relegated from the IHL until after the various play-offs."​

Queen's, meanwhile, moved off the bottom of the Ulster Premier League on Saturday after Philip Campbell hit a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Ballynahinch.​

Elsewhere, Instonians moved back to the top of the table after Sam Brown's treble sealed a 6-0 win at Portadown.​

North Down, who started the day at the summit, lost 7-3 to Kilkeel, while there were also wins for Mossley, Newry and Cookstown.​

Results: Ulster Premier: Kilkeel 7 (A Graham 2, R Cunningham 2, W Annett, D Finlay, J Finlay) North Down 3 (J Gilmore 2, S Moore), Mossley 4 (S Todd 3, J Robinson) Bangor 0, Newry 5 (P McNeice, C McKnight 2, K McWilliams 2), Queen's 6 (P Campbell 3, D Reid 2, A Doyle) Ballynahinch 2 (A McIlwaine, A Millar), Raphoe 0 Cookstown 5 (M Crooks, C Anderson, T Sloan, S Smyth 2).

Intermediate League: Antrim 2 (C Wilson 2) Portrush 3 (A Scott, L Smith, B McMullan), Armagh 0 CI 6, Belfast Harlequins 15 Parkview 0, Down 1 Civil Service 14.

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