IT’s a win, win, win for Church of Ireland men following a recent online meeting of the Munster branch of Hockey Ireland.
Following an earlier decision of Hockey Ireland to terminate the season the Munster branch have awarded the Garryduff-based club the men’s Division One, Two and Three league titles on a percentage basis. They were on course to win all three to make it a clean sweep, the first time this has been achieved by one club with all having a few games left to play.
Bandon were probably the unluckiest side after this decision as they were only two points behind Church of Ireland in Division Two, and potentially could have caught them.
Ironically Bandon were also their closest rivals in Division One, but Church of Ireland were undefeated when the league was terminated and the chances were they would have remained so for the rest of the season.
Church of Ireland were only back in the top flight in Munster this season as they had been playing in the EY Irish Hockey League for the last few years.
However they were relegated to the second tier of that competition at the end of last season, which meant they were back playing in Munster.
For them winning the league is something they would have set out to do, but more importantly would have been getting back into the IHL top flight.
They had qualified for the play-offs to return when hockey stopped and now they will have to do it all again next season, which is a disappointing end for CoI.
Commenting on their league win and losing out on promotion back to the IHL top flight their coach, Denis Pritchard said: “It would have been lovely to finish the season unbeaten and we had a 100% record when it all stopped.
“The play-offs of IHL 2 were the target for the season and we had set ourselves performance targets to go with that. When the opportunity of returning to IHL 1 was gone after Hockey Ireland declared the league null and void, it was nice to win the league but we have to do it all again now and are back to where we were.
“I don’t think they had much of a choice; how could they relegate some teams and promote others on two thirds of a season? The way they did it will annoy the least amount of people, only annoying the teams that were winning. The rest are no worse off than they were. It all counts for nothing other than we know we can do it next season, whenever that starts.
“But it was an enjoyable season, we only lost to Lisnagarvey (in the Irish Senior Cup) and that was by less than a lot of the teams in IHL 1.
“As a coach, you are always planning. We will get a bit of notice of when we can return and Hockey Ireland are not going to just say ‘you are back tomorrow’. We will likely get three weeks of notice, probably with certain restrictions.
“I know it’s not a contact sport but you can’t play without contact so social distancing would be impossible. It’s also an amateur sport and not like the Bundesliga or Premier League where they can stay in a hotel for two weeks or things like that,” concluded Denis.
At the opposite ends of the table Ashton were bottom of Division One, Harlequins B were relegated from Division Two and UCC C were last in Division Three.
Meanwhile, the Division One women’s title went to UCC, whose impressive form of recent seasons continues. They won two seasons ago, were second last year and have now been deemed winners this season.
They were six points clear of their nearest rivals, Church of Ireland and were on course to claim back their crown. Like Church of Ireland they were undefeated in the league and it was highly likely that would have been the case had games continued.
Their coach, Graham Catchpole, said he was confident they would have won the title had the league been played to its conclusion.
“We would have been confident that we would have gone on to win the title,” he said, “We had a number of tough games against Belvedere and Bandon in particular which went down to the wire. The girls will feel they did enough to win and are getting their just rewards.
However, unlike Church of Ireland they were not going as well in their IHL 2 campaign, something Graham was conscious of.
“When we sat down at the start of the year, that was certainly a target to get to the finals weekend. We had performed well in those IHL 2 games and put ourselves in with a shout with two games to go. We did feel we owed Ards after they beat us up there and then had Queen’s away, one which we edged at the Mardyke so destiny was still in our own hands.”
One of Graham’s worries will be if and when the league returns and how UCC will be operating as a college at the time.
“We don’t know how things will change for a college side. If learning goes online and college accommodation gets limited, you could see students stay at their family home outside of Cork. Our squad at the moment is half-Cork, half-outside of Cork, so we don’t know what will happen and it could lead to changes.
“The PE department have had regular meetings, trying to sort out what sport will look like in the future. Paudie Hartnett is our link there, but like lots of things, we just have to wait and see,” concluded Graham.
The Division Two title was won by Harlequins, but under current rules they cannot be promoted as they already have a team in the IHL 1. The current rule states that you cannot have a team in Division 1 of the Munster league if you have a team in the IHL top flight.
Blackrock were second so they will be given the option of going up but could face a play-off against Limerick, who finished bottom of Division One.
Division Three saw Belvedere and Limerick end level on points, but the former were declared champions. Crescent took the Division Four title, with Limerick on top in Division Five. Clonmel were the worthy winners of Division Six.
There are also a number of cup competitions left to be played including the men’s and women’s Munster Senior Cup finals and if time allows the branch would hope to play them as soon as possible.
But like all sports they will be governed by the advice from Hockey Ireland and the government.