Fresh start for hockey in Ireland

By Nigel RinglandBBC Sport NI
Players at the launch of the Irish Hockey League

The expanded Irish Hockey League that gets underway on Saturday feels like a fresh start for the local game.

For the first time, 10 men's and 10 women's teams will compete in 18 rounds of matches to earn a place at the Champions Trophy weekend where the Irish champions will be crowned.

The new full-season Hockey League mirrors the domestic league structures in hockey powerhouses such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with its main aim to provide an high level of competition on a weekly basis.

There has been plenty of opposition, especially from Ulster Hockey, and the repercussions of the division the new format has caused remain to be seen.

But, the seven Ulster clubs - Lisnagarvey, Banbridge, Cookstown, Annadale, Ulster Elks, Ards and Pegasus - seem to be embracing the concept.

There will certainly be changes which the clubs will need to instigate. In provincial competition, the teams are not all at the same level, leading to some lopsided score lines and easy victories.

There should be no shortage in the intensity of the new league which means a renewed commitment to training in order to compete.

There will also be the travel that clubs will not be used to on such a regular basis, and extra costs that will have to be factored in.

One of the targets will be to strengthen the international sides.

In a year when the women came within the width of a goal post of qualifying for the Olympics, and the men still await their Rio 2016 fate, there is a real buzz surrounding the sport and both sides are close to cracking the world's top 10 nations.

It is hoped that foreign players will come to Ireland and share their experience, something which could help push the Irish teams over the line in terms of qualifying for the next World Cup and 2020 Olympics.

Men's EY Hockey League
Cork C of IvCookstown13:30
Three Rock Rovers vGlenanne15:00
Pembroke vLisnagarvey16:00
Railway Union vMonkstown16:15
Women's EY Hockey League
Railway UnionvCork Harlequins14:15
Ulster Elks vPembroke14:30

Top Stories