Margret Mantell
Margret Mantell Rob Williams

Only three A-grade men's teams for new season

IT'S most likely the first time in Ipswich hockey history that only three A-grade men's teams will battle for title honours this season.

Recent efforts to keep Easts in the top competition starting on March 11 were unsuccessful with Ipswich's other regular clubs also struggling to preserve player numbers.

One option was having a nine-a-side

A-grade competition this year to spread the dwindling player pool further.

That idea was rejected at a meeting with clubs last Thursday night.

"It's the first time in my memory (we've had a three-team comp),'' Ipswich Hockey president Margret Mantell said.

Traditionally strong hockey centre Toowoomba also recently had trouble securing a fourth A-grade men's team before enough players were found.

"It's just statewide,'' Mantell said. "It seems to be an issue with mainly senior men. There's just a whole range of reasons, not that it's too expensive or we don't like Ipswich hockey.

"The current situation is a result of a large proportion of our current A-grade players all being of a similar age. They are that age where they have started families and so have young children, want to travel and work overseas for a time. Or they have been playing since they were eight or nine years old and so just need a year off to recharge their batteries.''

The Easts' A grade side has also relied on Australian Defence Force players in recent years who are unavailable every week due to their important work.

Other clubs were invited to provide excess players but faced a similar situation.

"Every club is the same,'' she said. "They have 30 senior players for their three teams at this point in time.''

However, Mantell is optimistic the tide will turn.

Ipswich Hockey's junior nursery is in excellent shape with the boys' competition extended to three grades this year.

"Our juniors are going the opposite way,'' Mantell (pictured at top) said.

A J3 competition is planned this year, providing three grades each for boys and girls, especially those coming through the successful Hookin2Hockey program.

However, in the A-grade men's ranks, it will be defending premiers Hancocks, Norths and Wests playing each other this year.

Some doubleheaders are being planned to offset the bye.

That will keep teams actively involved until the annual Combined Competition with Toowoomba starts in May.

"While reduced to a three-team A-grade men's competition is certainly not the outcome we were hoping for, we are still confident that the future of Ipswich Hockey is bright,'' Mantell said.

"We've just got to move forward and look for all the positives now, and things will turn around.

"Our RAP (Recruitment, Advancement and Promotion) team will be working tirelessly throughout the season to come up with strategies that will rebuild our senior ranks moving forward.''