LIKE all sports it has been a year to forget for hockey players and Hockey Ireland.
In a year that should have seen the ladies senior team head to the Olympics for the first time it became one where questions around safety of travelling to play games became the topic of conversation.
With sides from Munster, Leinster and Ulster all playing in the EY Irish Hockey League it meant Cork teams having to travel on a regular basis to Dublin and the North, where in both places Covid-19 cases were rising rapidly at the time.
Hockey Ireland took a firm stance at the start and stated that the IHL was considered elite level and therefore should go ahead.
This led to a number of Cork sides deciding not to travel for particular games, with the IHL warning them about the consequences, including a 5-0 win awarded against them for every game they don't fulfil and also the possibility of being removed from the league.
However with Northern Ireland then going into a higher level of lockdown and with the South following they softened their stance and imposed suspended sanctions on the three Cork sides – Harlequins, Church of Ireland and UCC women's squads – who had opted not to travel for certain games.
But in a move that was within the rules, but certainly not in the spirit of the game, Muckross Hockey Club appealed against the suspension of the sanctions against Harlequins in particular.
Their appeal was upheld and it also meant the sanctions had to be imposed on UCC and Church of Ireland as well.
This decision was one that didn't go down well with the clubs involved and also lots of other clubs, but the hands of Hockey Ireland were tied.
Reacting to the decision, Yvonne O'Byrne, Irish senior player and Harlequins star said: “Surely there's a better solution? Hockey should be a supportive community where players and clubs feel like they can voice concerns and actually be heard.
“Lack of consultation led to this situation. Hockey Ireland have a lot to answer for and big changes are needed to restore trust.”
However, for Hockey Ireland, there were some positive aspects to the year as they were able to take the time to appoint a number of experienced coaches to the boys' junior age group squads.
Former Irish international Joe Brennan has been appointed as the National Boys Development Coach and U21 boys head coach. Joe will also take over the U19 boys team. The former international player is also a former assistant coach to the senior women, as well as previously holding head coach roles in Muckross, Three Rock Rovers, and Glenanne.
Simon Lowry takes over as head coach to the boys U18 squad, with Simon supporting Joe Brennan as they set their sights on the U18 EuroHockey Championship in Valencia in July, facing Germany, the Netherlands, and Russia in Pool B (to which Hockey Ireland are sending U19 squads).
Ronan Hickey will take over the boys U16 squad as head coach as they focus on an Easter Five Nations (Covid-19 dependent).
Speaking on the appointments, High-Performance Director Adam Grainger said: “It’s fantastic to be able to announce these appointments. Between international playing experience and coaching at domestic and international level, the knowledge and experience these individuals will bring to the squads will have a lasting impact on the development of underage boys’ hockey in Ireland for years to come.
“Hockey Ireland would also like to welcome every one in the hockey community to access the ‘Player Development’ resource on the Hockey Ireland Hub E-learning platform. This area of the hub will focus on assisting all players across many areas of performance, such as strength and conditioning and nutrition.
“Through the ‘Player Development’ resources participants can learn the necessary skills to reach their full potential. We aim to provide a well-rounded resource that produces regular articles from leading experts in the field of performance sport. We hope to provide all participants with key information to help them develop as a person and a player.
“An interactive approach will be taken where Hockey Ireland endeavours to answer any comments you may have towards articles produced. We hope the comment box will encourage and facilitate discussion on these important topics among the hockey community.”