The passports have been put away, the school bags have come out and the inevitable discussions about timetables, commute times, drop-offs, collections etc are in full flow. Within all that, a new hockey season beckons. Club membership signups are in full swing and many of our senior teams are already busy with pre-season training. Of course, for some, the hockey stick never got put away. Our InterPro squads have been training hard all summer and our social hockey players have been enjoying a summer season of fine weather hockey. Others, who have been less active, face the challenging tasks of finding their mouthguard and a decent pair of socks!
I'm starting with InterPros not because it is the most important, but simply because it is almost upon us. The 22-23 season begins in earnest this Sunday with Match Day 1 of the InterPros when Connacht will take on Leinster. This year's slightly revised, and I believe, improved format, will see the competition run between September and December. This format is significantly more condensed than last year, but it still allows sufficient time for player and team development, while also allowing players, coaches and managers more space for club and school hockey, as well as their many other non-hockey commitments. Our squads, their coaches, managers and the InterPro committee put so much hard work into preparing for the InterPros and I wish to commend all of them. I also applaud the commitment that you, parents and guardians, give to your children and the InterPro process. The coming together of our Connacht Hockey community around competitive InterPro hockey is aways a great occasion. The InterPros are a firm favourite of mine in the hockey calendar and I look forward to chatting with you on the sidelines.
As I eluded to in my opening words, for our clubs, it is all go right now. All are incredibly busy getting ready for the season ahead. As the home of our players, our clubs are the backbone of Connacht Hockey. To anyone who gives time to our clubs, especially club officers, I thank you most sincerely. We are delighted to be entering the 22-23 season with the most clubs ever in Connacht Hockey and I wish all our clubs the very best for the season ahead. In particular, I am very much looking forward to assisting our newer clubs to continue to develop and grow throughout this season.
I'd doubt that any club would refuse a little extra help so, if you can give any of your time, please do so. It doesn't have to be a big role. It could even just be a couple of hours in the season, for example doing the video for one match, but the small and often unseen bits are just as important. Which leads me to my next point, Get Vetted.
Even if you feel that you might only be able to help out once in a blue moon it is so much easier for clubs when they have a pool of vetted individuals that they can draw from. Connacht Hockey and all our clubs, take our safeguarding responsibilities very seriously and vetting is an essential component of this.
One of the really exciting developments of the last few years has been the launch of the Connacht Hockey Academy. Under the excellent guardianship of former Irish International, Elayne McDermott, our Academy is going from strength to strength. The academy plays an important and strategic role in the development of both young players and young coaches. The simple reality is, that every player on a competitor team at InterPro level will have had hundreds of more hours of 'stick on ball' time than our players. It's a gap that we strive to close and the academy is central to this objective.
Umpires are critical to our game and we don't have enough of them. They protect good play and ensure that our games are conducted in a fair and safe manner. It's very disheartening to read, with alarming frequency, of serious issues of referee abuse in other codes. In fact, some codes have had to take the dramatic action of suspending competitive activity due to referee abuse. Thankfully, this issue is not very prevalent in our game. Let's do more than keep it that way. Let's stamp out umpire abuse entirely from our game. Our umpires are not beyond challenge, in fact all good umpires welcome appropriate challenge as it forces them to articulate their decision making and ultimately become a better umpire. However, leave it to the coaches and players. They know how and when to challenge an umpire. If you can't contain yourself, then please do not come to our games. It's a small ball, it moves very fast, lots of sticks and bodies get in the way, the rules are complex and our umpires are human. I've seen debates where senior international umpires cannot come to an agreed decision, even with the benefit of hours deliberating over slow motion replays. If you feel you can do better, in the dynamic heat of battle, then by all means let us know. We'd be delighted to put you on our umpire development pathway.
I'm unsure as to how much (or how little) you know about Connacht Hockey. It's easy for those of us involved for some time to forget that many within our community are not necessarily overly familiar with the workings of hockey in our province. I was that individual. Truth be told, I had a number of seasons of 'hanging on the railings' under my belt before I even heard of Connacht Hockey.
At Connacht Hockey, we are a constituent part of Hockey Ireland with a specific remit to encourage, promote, develop, manage and control all hockey in Connacht. We encourage everyone from pre 6 to post 66 to play hockey. We run the Connacht competitions, manage the InterPro teams and, in essence, handle all the administrative stuff that sits above the club level. With respect to promotion and development, we are the body that develops and executes the strategic positioning of Connacht Hockey. In this, we face many grand challenges, but I come into the role on the back of great strategic planning activity completed under the guidance of my immediate predecessors, Ais Keogh and Kevin Keane.
I'll spare you the specifics, but our challenges span across our own internal operations, our funding model, our strategic development and more. Make no mistake, these are truly grand challenges. I have used the word quite deliberately. However, they are grand, specifically because of our ambition. We have both created and accepted these grand challenges because we strive for Connacht Hockey to become more. We are unwilling to accept a version of Connacht Hockey that offers anything less than best possible outcomes for our players, our clubs and Connacht Hockey itself. None of this is easy, and much will take years to address, but we choose to address our present, inspired by vision for the future, not the limitations of our past. Our new clubs, recent funding allocations for facilities and equipment, our actions on the development of a centre of excellence, all stand as concrete demonstrations of our ambitions. It will be a long and difficult road ahead. Already, planning has being rejected for Mountain South. It's hugely disappointing, but I believe that the pursuit of Mountain South has truly changed Connacht Hockey. It has changed our relationship with Hockey Ireland, local representatives, other sporting organisation and potential supporters of Connacht Hockey. It has even changed how we perceive ourselves and what we choose to believe in. Mountain South may not happen, and that would be a shame, but much good will come of it. We know where we are, and now we more on.
To conclude, I would like to wish everyone in any aspect of Connacht Hockey the very best for the coming season. My hope is that each of us, player and non-player alike, continue to grow and develop, continue to be competitive and most importantly continue to enjoy our hockey activity both on and off the field.
Yours in hockey,
PS Good luck finding the mouthguard!