Format hailed by Otago pathways manager

Hymie Gill
Hymie Gill
Otago pathways manager Hymie Gill is thrilled with plans to revert to an association-based national tournament stucture next year.

Hockey New Zealand is dismantling the regional model which has underpinned the National Hockey League and the premier under-21 and under-18 national tournaments.

An association-based competition will replace it. What shape it takes and what role the various associations will play in that is unclear.

But the Otago Hockey Association is well-placed to flourish in the new environment with Gill on board.

The 46-year-old returned to Dunedin earlier this year after 20 years away.

A former New Zealand hockey representative, he played 79 matches for his country and has been a professional coach for the past 18 years.

Gill has seen a few changes in his time and is very much looking forward to the next one.

Before the advent of the National Hockey League in 1999, the tournament was an association-based tournament.

It was a three-tiered competition with six teams in each grade and promotion-relegation matches to allow for movement between the tiers.

The top six men's teams in 1998 were Northland, Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim, Canterbury and Otago.

''This is why I think it is great - Blenheim were in the top division,'' he said.

''It was pretty awesome that a small association had the chance to play in the top tier and I think that is what has been missing in the National Hockey League.

''The incision of the regional competition meant the little associations have gone awry. The Horowhenuas, the Whanganuis, the Manawatus and the Hawke's Bays have all gone.

''That has meant good club hockey players have not had the pathway to play in front of national selectors. They used to go along to see who was doing well in all three tournaments.''

Gill, for example, was selected for New Zealand in 1998 after a strong performance for Waikato in the second-tiered tournament.

The centralisation of talent has acted as a disincentive for players and it also drew resources away from the regions, Gill said.

''It will now be a game played by New Zealand rather than just a game played in the big centres,'' he said.

''Across the board I think it is going to make the associations stronger. And the thing about this is there is now going to be lots of associations who will need to have fulltime coaches helping develop their players.''

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