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Irish Hockey reject proposed All Ireland League changes as clubs air disappointment

 

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Disappointed: Lurgan Ladies’ Robbie McMinn

Disappointed: Lurgan Ladies’ Robbie McMinn

Disappointed: Lurgan Ladies’ Robbie McMinn

There is to be no change in the structure of the EY Irish Hockey Leagues next season as the sport's national governing body have opted against introducing a new expanded second-tier edition.

There had been widespread calls from clubs for a full-season 18-match EYHL 2 with promotion and relegation, but this has been rejected with the status quo being maintained.

The second division national league will therefore be run on the same lines as the last two seasons with a total of four groups across the women's and men's competition.

Qualification for the new season's EYHL 2 based on finishing positions was determined by points per game after the last season was halted prematurely by the Covid-19 pandemic.

By coincidence, the six Ulster qualifiers remain the same as in the last campaign, with Queen's, Ards and Lurgan women being joined by Cookstown, Kilkeel and Instonians men.

The top-two finishers in the various groups will, as before, contest a play-off series, with the overall winner qualifying automatically for the top-tier all Ireland competition and the runners up facing a promotion play-off against the second-from-last team in EYHL 1.

The decision has caused frustration among the clubs who were in favour of a change to the format, with player welfare among the main concerns.

With EYHL 2 being run in tandem with the domestic leagues, clubs can expect to face around 30 matches per season over 27 weeks, not including knock-out competitions both at domestic and national level.

Unless there are changes to the format of the Premier League in Ulster, for example, teams who also take part in EYHL 2 would face a minimum of 22 domestic games and six in the round robin national competition.

Should teams finish in the top-two and progress to the play-offs, the total of matches would obviously increase. Queen's University ladies, for example, played 37 games two seasons ago, with an additional four being staged in the Irish Inter-Varsities event.

In April, a group of eight women's clubs in EYHL 2 and several men's clubs called upon Hockey Ireland to introduce a full-season format, but this has been rejected.

The governing body have, however, confirmed that there will be a review of the format 'in the coming months', with any changes being in place for the 2021/22 season.

Reaction has been largely negative among the clubs concerned who would have preferred to have contested an 18-match EYHL 2 series

Cookstown joint coach Stephen Cuddy said: "We understand completely that the circumstances have been more difficult with Covid-19 stopping play for so long. But we really do believe that the changes that had so much support from clubs could have been implemented quickly and the season could have begun on time with an  EYHL 2 in place."

Lurgan Ladies coach Robbie McMinn added: "It's disappointing in some ways that a full EYHL 2 will not happen, and there was a good, positive consensus from the teams playing last season that it would have been a logical and positive step.

"Leinster and Ulster teams, in particular, were having a worrying amount of matches and now I think clubs will look at what other competitions they enter to balance already heavy commitments."

Belfast Telegraph