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Castle Hockey Club is looking to the future with a strong junior setup

A Carrick-based hockey club, formed following a merger of two east Antrim clubs in 2016, is building for the future with a dynamic youth setup.

Castle Hockey Club came into existence in June 2016 when its two constituent former clubs Carrick Ladies Hockey Club and Greenisland Hockey Club voted to merge.

Since its formation, the club trains and plays its matches on the synthetic pitch at Carrickfergus Amphitheatre, while Carrickfergus Rugby Football Club allows the hockey club to share their club house and facilities at Tom Simms Memorial Park.

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The club, which fields four teams in the Ulster Hocley Union, has two co-presidents, Peter Stevenson and Barbra Webber.

Castle 1st XI.

Detailing how the club is attracting young players and building for the future, Peter said: “Our 1st XI compete in Senior Two while the other three teams (our 2nd XI, 3rd XI, and 4th XI) all participate in the Junior Leagues. We also participate fully in all Ulster Hockey’s cup competitions. All players within these four senior teams are aged 15 and above.

“We also have a thriving junior club section which we have a range of Under 7, Under 9, Under 11, Under 13, and Under 15 squads who compete in the regular ‘blitz’ events organised by Ulster Hockey plus specially arranged inter-club junior tournaments.

“We have some 80 playing members registered within senior club plus a small number of non-playing members. Our junior club continues to be extremely popular and currently fields some 110 members.

“Senior club places always remain open to anyone over the age of 15 years who might wish to join us. Due to the numbers already on our books and the limited facilities available, we sometimes need to operate a waiting list for junior club membership.

Castle Hockey Club 3rd XI.

“We are however always open to joining requests and we do our very best to facilitate all young players aged between six and 15. Youth development is important to us, a policy strongly supported by everyone at the club, particularly our senior players who have totally bought into the project. This focus on youth takes time and patience, but ultimately we believe it has to be the right way to go.”

As well as helping the young players hone their skills and participate in matches, the club also prides itself on its ability to nurture future coaches and umpires.

Peter explained: “In tandem with our playing policy, we also look to ensure our young players receive meaningful support for development in other key aspects of club activities. In this respect, umpiring is very important within all clubs as in the UHU at our level, clubs must provide at least one umpire for every match plus support for those games where ‘neutral’ umpires are always required.

“Castle has four senior umpires all registered at Ulster level plus around five registered at club level. We also have five up-and-coming young umpires aged 15-18, who umpire all our Under 15 matches and have indeed on occasions stepped up into senior club for umpiring duties.

Chairperson Alyson Douglas and Castle's 1st XI captain Lyndsey McClurg accepting a new sponsored away shirt from David Brown, the Head of Operations at sponsor, B-Secur.

“Similarly, we were extremely proud last summer when 13 of our young members completed their Young Hockey Leaders Award programme under the auspice of Ulster Hockey. This course was aimed at young people aged between 14 and 16 encouraging them to expand their activities beyond simply playing hockey with a view towards developing additional interests in umpiring, coaching, and team management.”

Although the club is still in its infancy, teams have tasted success in their respective leagues.

Peter stated: “Not long after our formation, our 1st XI managed a hard fought promotion to Senior One, however we found we lacked the depth of experience necessary to compete consistently at that level.

“We’re working hard to repeat that promotion and our young squad is slowly but surely coming together as a unit. Our 2nd XI has achieved two excellent league promotions since we were established, the most recent being in our 2019/20 season when we won promotion to Junior Three.

Castle's young hockey leaders.

“Also, in 2018/2019 our 3rd XI were UHU Junior Six league champions and compete in Junior Five. Our 4th XI is relatively new and competes in UHU Junior Nine. All in all, it’s been steady progress but there’s so much more to come.”

As with many other sporting bodies across the province, activities at Castle were curtailed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but as restrictions ease and the situation improves, the day-to-day operations at the club are returning to some sort of normality.

Peter said: “In common with all participants in the Ulster Hockey Union, Castle’s activities throughout the pandemic have been governed by strict protocols set by the UHU. While we all unfortunately lost a large part of the 2020/21 playing season, the Union has carefully managed a steady return to hockey and at present we have lost very few fixtures due to Covid.”

The east Antrim club has a strong community ethos and has conducted a number of kindhearted efforts in a bid to give something back to the area.

Peter added: “We don’t tend to commit ourselves to any one particular charity, but we recognise the importance of supporting others through our activities. Most recently, our junior club ran an event in support of one of our junior members, Madison Wright, who in 2020 was named as the first ever Youth Ambassador for the NI Children’s Hospice. Meanwhile, this past Christmas, members responded superbly to a hamper collection for Women’s Aid.”

Senior club trains its 3rd and 4th squads on Tuesday evenings between 7pm and 9pm with the 1st and 2nd squads training on Wednesday evenings between the same times. Junior club U7s, U9s, U11s, and U13s train on Sunday afternoons while the U15s train on Wednesday evenings. For more information, or to contact the club, check out the Castle Hockey Facebook page.

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