OVER the last few months, many sporting organisations had to make tough decisions around their seasons because of the pandemic.
Hockey Ireland was no different, as they considered what to do with the EY Irish Hockey League and other cup competitions.
The leagues started last September and would have been due to finish in the coming weeks. Last year, when the first lockdown came in, they cancelled all remaining games and the status quo remained, with no sides promoted or relegated.
When games did return for a time, before Christmas, there was more controversy, with some clubs unhappy at having to travel, with Hockey Ireland insisting they did.
It was only when the elite status of club hockey at that level was removed by the Government that games were suspended. With time against them, Hockey Ireland, last month, abandoned the league again.
Hockey Ireland chair, Eric Brady, stated: “Unfortunately, this has become an inevitable decision, as Covid-19 continues to impact on all of our lives. We know that this is very disappointing for all clubs and players, but we simply no longer have the time to complete this year’s leagues.”
The Munster branch held out hope that there might be a chance of playing games at local club level, but, in the last few weeks, they also had to abandon the season.
They said: “Following a meeting of the management committee of the Munster Branch of Hockey Ireland (MBHI), it was decided to approve the proposal of the Competitions Committee to abandon all leagues and cancel all cup competitions for the 2020/21 season. It was also agreed that all teams will compete in the same leagues next season (2021/22) as they were in for the 2020/21 season, subject to the number of team entries.”
However, for fans of the sport, there was some delight recently, when Ireland’s senior women’s side took on Great Britain in a three-game series in Belfast. Both sides are due to take part in the Olympics and it gave fans of the sport a chance to watch them on TV.
And, no doubt, it would have made many even more determined to get back to their chosen sport, given the way the Irish side played against GB.
The first game ended 2-1 to GB, with Ireland winning the second game by the same score. That victory created its own bit of history: It was the first time they ever beat GB at senior level and the big pity was fans couldn’t be present to witness it.
The third game ended in a draw, so the series was drawn.
But massive credit must go to the Irish side, as, in some ways, it’s a bit like Man City being taken on by a side from a few leagues below them in England.
GB are a professional side and have a budget that runs into the millions, as they prepare to defend their Olympic title. They are that good and will be one of the sides to beat again come the summer.
Ireland have very little funding and most of the team have jobs, which they juggle with training, or else they have taken unpaid time off to prepare for the summer.
Just like many other Irish athletes preparing for the Olympics, funding is far short of where it should be and yet they continue to shine and strive to better themselves and do their country proud.
The pandemic has meant that normal revenue streams have dried up for most sporting organisations and they badly need support.
There is a massive draw on government funding to keep hospitals, schools, jobs, and more all funded. There is only so much they can do, but the importance of sport at international level, in the current climate, is a huge morale boost for all.
Look at the likes of Phil Healy and what she has achieved in recent times and what it has meant to all. A few years ago, when the Irish senior women’s hockey team reached the World Cup final in London, the whole country got behind them.
The huge crowds that turned out to see them play Canada in Dublin, in a two-game series to decide who qualified for the Olympics, showed the level to which they had taken the game.
Now, more than ever, they need the support of all and the Government to ensure they, and all Irish athletes, are properly funded from the top to the bottom, as all, hopefully, get back taking part in their chosen sport.
For many, their mental health has suffered because of the pandemic and sport has always been a great outlet in this regard. Now, more than ever, we need sport and it needs to be properly funded for the sake of all.