Grafton to field best 11
IT will be a combination of fresh legs and old heads in the Grafton team at the NSW State Hockey Championships in Newcastle this weekend.
Led by Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Brent Livermore, the team is back to full-strength after a disappointing title defence in 2010.
Striker Peter Kelly says the team is relishing its underdog status in this year’s tournament, but warns they aren’t just there to make up the numbers.
“I think we will definitely challenge them, whether they think that is another story,” he said.
“Last year we had a bit of a building phase because we didn’t have all our players who were on state duty, but this year they’ve moved the tournament so those players get to play.
“So that puts us back to full strength, whereas last year we were just trying to avoid relegation. This year, now that we’ve got our full strength team, we’re there to win it.”
The team, which includes NSW Waratahs players Rob Green and Scott Garner, will meet Tamworth, Illawarra and Newcastle in their pool matches. The top two teams will progress to the semi-finals.
Kelly, a member of the victorious 2009 team, says the competition is a good chance for Grafton to prove it can be competitive with the metropolitan teams, despite the challenges of location and funding for the sport.
“It’s disadvantaged in one way because it’s so far from Sydney where you have to come if you want to keep progressing your hockey,” he said.
“Obviously not everyone wants to come to Sydney but they generally (all state teams) only look at metro-based teams because of the greater access to training and coaches because they’re all based in Sydney.
“We’re able to produce a lot of good players year after year, when it comes to opens they’re all able to come back and play together because there’s no age limits so we can put together a good team.”
The challenge for these players will be to come together with little or no experience playing with each other and gel as a team, but according to Kelly, Grafton has a secret weapon.
“I think that’s probably the big advantage of having Brent this year is to give more direction to the younger guys and to provide that unity within the team almost immediately,” he said.
“It’s pretty amazing, it’s not something many people think about but he can basically tell you to be in a position before the ball is even there and he knows that once he gets the ball he’ll be throwing it into that position.
“And if you’re not there then you should have listened to him.
“He has an ability to read the game ahead of the play.”
Kelly also names Troy and Laurie Urquhart as key members of Grafton’s team. Both are currently playing in the local competition and will be out to impress.
As for the competition, Kelly says they should watch out for Isaac Priddis, who he describes as “one of the biggest and most physical hockey players around.”
Isaac currently is in doubt with a suspected broken hand so will have to be cleared by medical staff before taking the field.
“Their strikers will want to be either very quick or big themselves to be able to compete with him,” he said.
Kelly, who plays for Sydney University, says he finds playing in championship tournaments a high pressure experience.
“Obviously all the selectors are there so you want to perform well,” he said.
“For instance, if the young guys coming through put in a good performance it’s planting seeds in these selectors’ minds for the future.
“Also the pressure of just representing Grafton, I think I’m under more pressure playing for Grafton than I am just playing in the Sydney local competition.
“It’s a once-off weekend and you want to perform well.
“I think the biggest thing is that you get to get one back at Sydney players so to speak.
“It’s pretty rare for a small town team to beat someone like Sydney in 2009 in the final, when they just expect they’re going to wipe the floor with you.”
8.00am Grafton v Newcastle
2.15pm Grafton v Tamworth
9.15am Grafton v Illawarra
S/F 3.30pm Second in pool AS/F
4.45pm First in pool A
Sunday 1.00pm Final
Grafton 2 Division 3
8.00am Grafton v New England
2.15pm Grafton v Crockwell
Saturday11.45am Grafton v Nepean 2
Sunday S/F 8.00am Second in pool BS/F
9.15am First in pool B