The camaign to send a Northern Ireland hockey team to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 is gathering momentum.
The management board of Ulster Hockey is investigating the possibility after receiving a letter from the squad members of the successful Ulster under 18 side.
The Sports Minister Nelson McCausland said it would be up to the Ulster Hockey Union and the Irish Hockey Association to consider how such a move would impact on the development of hockey in Northern Ireland.
But he went on: 'I am always keen to see Northern Ireland well represented in international competitions. All our athletes should have the opportunity, wherever possible, to represent their country in international competition under their national banner.'
One of Northern Ireland's best hockey players has backed the idea. Emma Clarke, who currently plays for the top team in the English Premier League, Leicester, says it would be an amazing opportunity for players to represent Northern Ireland on the big stage.
'It would be a great experience to compete against some of the best teams in the world and with hockey being a main focus in Ulster, the aim of Glasgow 2014 would mean the development of a very strong squad who could do very well in the Games,' said Emma.
Ulster Elks coach Ricky Lee was at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi to assist the Northern Ireland team. He believes there is nothing to compare with the sheer size of the Games.
'The 6,500 athletes and officials from 72 nations and territories from all round the Commonwealth, competing across 17 sports in 12 spactacular venues was a real eye opener,' Ricky explained.
'Northern Ireland had medal successes in boxing, cycling, lawn bowls and shooting and many other personal successes in the 11 sports that we were represented in. As a hockey player and coach I would have loved to see our wee country compete in that sport.'
The Chief Executive of the Irish Hockey Association, Angus Kirkland, said the idea [had] been reviewed in the past and a team from Northern Ireland had been ineligible to be considered for entry as Northern Ireland is not an affiliated member of the FIH and therefore has no official world ranking.'
'The issue of Northern Ireland competing in the Commonwealth Games at hockey is with the Ulster Hockey Board and we await communication from them in this regard.'
This is an important development as it has been initiated by hockey players themselves. These are Northern Ireland athletes and they should surely be able to participate in the Commonwealth Games as part of a Northern Ireland team. However we were unable to enter a hockey team in the 2010 Delhi Games. The next games in Glasgow are four years away and I hope that the Ulster Hockey Board will press forward on this matter with urgency. The current situation is the result of the way that hockey is organised on an all-Ireland basis and it needs to be addressed.
We did well in Delhi but there were some sports in which we did not enter a team and if we had entered teams in those sports we might well have done even better. The same situation applies in rugby. When I travelled out to Delhi there was an English rugby team on the plane and rugby is a popular sport in Northern Ireland but we did not have a Northern Ireland team in the Games.