Writes Liam Grainger, Sports Editor
Boasting over sixty individual sports clubs, UCC has well established itself as one of the top Irish universities in the number of extra-curricular activities it has on offer. A handful of these clubs require no introduction and are as old, and often as celebrated, as the university itself. Some more youthful clubs, however, are just finding their feet in the UCC sporting area, and though they may not be getting as much of the media limelight, it should in no way detract from the immense value they bring to the student cohort on Western Road. One such example is UCC’s Inline Hockey Club who have gone from strength to strength since their early ‘90s inception and are growing each year with a steady stream of members with no sign of letting up. This year the club is being led by club captain Tom Quinlan, and though the past two semesters have proven extremely challenging for the club on numerous levels, they remain optimistic for the future.
But first, some background. Inline Hockey, or Roller Hockey, dates back to the early 1900s and at first involved players using field hockey sticks, a round ball, and of course, roller blades. Initially confined in popularity to the northern states bordering Canada, the sport gained popularity with the widespread diffusion of television sets after WW2, when the sport got commercial coverage for the first time. As the decades evolved, so too did the sport. Quad skates turned to inline skates, the round ball changed to a puck, and international Inline Hockey organisations were set up globally. The rules are quite similar to hockey, with a few nuances. Inline Hockey Ireland’s website will tell you that instead of a rubber puck, the game is played with a non-bounce plastic puck with hard nubs to reduce friction and is lighter in weight than an ice puck. The game is played with 4 players and a goalie from each team on the surface at a given time. A professional game consists of two twenty-minute halves, with the clock only running when the puck is in play; the arena is usually the same dimensions as your standard ice-hockey rink. As you’d expect, speed and agility are critical in this high-tempo game, and bodychecking or physicality of any sort is illegal. Domestically, Inline Hockey Ireland is the national governing body for the sport, and they’re affiliated with their European and World governing body counterparts. There are currently fifteen inline hockey clubs active in Ireland at present, spanning across 12 counties. The Cork Wolfpack are the rebel county representatives who train in Little Island and offer Inline Hockey action for younger players and all the way up to their Senior Elite team.
UCC’s Inline Hockey Club was founded in the early 1990s by a group of Canadian students who were studying at the college; the sport was popular in the city at the time and an opportunity was spotted in opening a student-led team. The club currently has 22 active members, but on top of that figure is a large cohort of international students who visit UCC each year and join in on the action. The club currently trains once a week on a Wednesday evening, but the hope is to ramp that schedule up to twice a week in the future. The lack of Inline Hockey clubs in other Irish colleges means intervarsity competitions aren’t an option for the club at present, but the current committee is hopeful that with the growing popularity of the game that this will change in the coming years. Your typical Wednesday night training session will begin with some simple skating to warm-up, followed by various drills that focus on stick handling, puck control, passing and shooting. Training sessions take place in Capwell, at Críost Rí’s indoor hall, and each Inline outing always finishes with an internal game at the end. Sounds fun, right?
Tom Quinlan is the club’s current Captain, and he caught the Inline bug when he joined the club in first year. Like many of the club’s recruits, he had never played before coming to UCC, but he hasn’t looked back since. Having enjoyed roller blading from a young age, Tom slowly began to supplement the skating with the various stick handling techniques and puck shots needed for Inline. The pace of the game was something that really attracted Tom to it, and this coupled with like-minded teammates who also had a passion for the game was the perfect combination. For club secretary Matthew Collins, the interest in hockey stretches all the way back to his early teens when he became hooked on the NHL. Despite being a talented soccer goalkeeper, he decided to devote more of his time to Inline, having only caught wind of the UCC club through a careers seminar he attended where the Inline Club were promoting the sport and enticing students to join. Echoing Tom’s sentiment, Matthew explains that the rapport between club members is one of the club’s most enjoyable aspects, and that the no-pressure environment is the perfect oasis for students to have fun away from the books.
The pandemic has hit the Inline Hockey club particularly hard. Despite being one of the few UCC clubs that train off-campus, they were unable to organise training sessions even though all necessary return-to-play guidelines had been completed. So, when other clubs were given the chance to regroup albeit for a short period at the start of the academic year, the club was unable to offer its members any action despite complete cooperation with reduced capacity directives. The pandemic and the halting of play couldn’t have come at a worse time for the club, who were just beginning to gain momentum on campus. It’s difficult to replicate the sport to any degree in a virtual environment, and as a result the club has lost many of its usual members due to the club’s inactivity. Moreover, the international students who make up a substantial part of the club’s member base also didn’t travel in their usual numbers to the university. To add salt to the club’s wounds, they also had to postpone this year’s trip to Belfast where they had planned to take in an ice-hockey game while also getting some skating action in themselves while in Northern Ireland. The club did however manage to play its part in numerous charitable events that took place over the past six months, including the ‘Hike for Hope’ in aid of Pieta House.
So, what’s the sales pitch for people who want a bit of the Inline action? Tom and Matthew tell me that they highly encourage all interested students to get involved as soon as the club gets their skates on again. They assure me that newcomers don’t even need skating experience to join their ranks, or any prior-knowledge of how to actually hold a hockey-stick. Whatever your skill level, the club is ready to welcome you and get you up to speed with one of UCC Sport’s most exciting clubs. What’s evident is that the club values the social aspect of the game as much as the Inline Hockey itself, and it seems the perfect place for incoming students to have their first taste of college sport, with a club that doesn’t take itself too seriously and puts great value on its members.
It’s been a tough year for all of UCC’s clubs. Almost all intervarsity competitions have been cancelled or postponed as the country deals with the third wave of the pandemic, with the Sigerson, Fitzgibbon, and AIL competitions all falling victim to the virus. The UCC Sport hiatus is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, with the earliest return to play date for the Inline Hockey club looking like next September. However, now is the perfect time to start planning your post-pandemic sporting renaissance; try something new, something outside the status quo. The Inline Hockey Club are always on the lookout for new members to join their ranks, and both Tom and Matthew repeatedly stressed that no prior experience of the sport is required to take part. Just like all other UCC Clubs, the comradery amongst members is one of the club’s biggest selling points, and the club’s committee assure me that they’ll be returning bigger and stronger than ever in the new academic year. So, if you’re still looking for the UCC Club that’s the right fit for you, and looking to try something a bit different, maybe it’s just a roller skate away.