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Ulster clubs back potential Irish Hockey second tier switch to full season



Good move: Ards’ Naomi McKnight wants to see big changes made

Good move: Ards’ Naomi McKnight wants to see big changes made

Good move: Ards’ Naomi McKnight wants to see big changes made

There are growing calls from clubs for a second-tier EY Irish Hockey League to be introduced next season instead of the current format.

In recent seasons, IHL 2 involved 20 teams, with an equal number of men's and women's sides, competing on a round robin basis with the top two finishers in each of four groups of five teams playing off for promotion to the top-flight of the all-island competition.

Those second division matches were played alongside the provincial leagues, leading to an increased number of fixtures and concerns over player welfare.

Eight out of the 10 women's clubs who were involved in IHL 2 in the current season - before it was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic - endorsed a statement sent to Hockey Ireland expressing their wish for an expanded version to be added to the calendar.

The men's clubs who were involved in IHL 2 are also believed to be broadly in favour of the proposed new format.

Two of the three Ulster men's clubs involved in the season that was abandoned last week who were contacted - Instonians and Cookstown - have given the idea their approval with Kilkeel, whose constitution doesn't allow Sunday hockey, yet to respond either way.

The teams concerned would be removed from the provincial leagues, meaning that a more manageable fixture list would follow.

The statement on behalf of the women's clubs, including Ards, Queen's and Lurgan, read: "We are requesting the (Hockey Ireland) Working Group recommends to the board of Hockey Ireland that EYHL 2 becomes a full-time, 18-match competition from season 2020-2021 onwards.

"There are multiple reasons for this, ranging from player welfare to the standard of the competition, which we would be happy to discuss at a later stage."

Ards co-captain Naomi McKnight believes the proposed full-season league would be preferable to the current format.

She said: "A full season, expanded IHL 2 would help address the challenge and result in a more manageable number of games in a season.

"Before the cancellation due to the pandemic, we were on course to play over 30 league games in the one season which was a massive ask of our players.

"With the IHL, whatever division, there are challenges for clubs who play matches across Ireland, some relating to player availability due to personal circumstances and costs.

"These are issues that would need to be worked through but an expanded IHL 2 would provide a great opportunity for our players."

Belfast Telegraph