Indoor hockey stage is set for National League 1
8 December 2016
There might be a hint of things to come in the opening games in Men’s Indoor Hockey National League 1 at the Bell`s Sports Centre in Perth this Saturday, when Grange take on Grove Menzieshill, to be followed by Kelburne against champions Inverleith.
There is no doubting Stuart Neave`s desire to win the indoor first division crown for the fourth year in a row for his Inverleith charges, but he knows this will take patience and careful planning. The Edinburgh-based side have a tough opening schedule, their first two encounters are against Bromac Kelburne and city rivals Grange, and title rivals Grove Menzieshill lie in wait for the final fixture of the day. Neave said: "Three game days are always awkward especially when you have the calibre of opposition that we are up against in the first weekend of the league."
The only consolation for Neave is that Grove Menzieshill are in exactly the same boat with games against the same sides.
Kelburne could be a side to stake a claim this weekend. In the past the Paisley side, 12-times consecutive outdoor league winners and currently at the top of the table, have not shown the same acumen for the indoor game, but undoubtedly have the playing potential to mount a real challenge if their top players are on form.
Grange have also created the odd upset over the last few years and finished a very creditable fourth in last season`s championship. This is recognised by Neave: "I believe Grange and Kelburne have shown in the past that each can be very competitive on their day." Consequently, six points are far from guaranteed from Inverleith`s opening encounters, and Grove Menzieshill will share that uncertainty.
The final clash between the great rivals of the indoor game will undoubtedly be the highlight of the day, but hardly conclusive in the destiny of the title given the format of the competition.
Former Scottish internationalist Bruce Cuthill has taken over the coaching reins at Grove Menzieshill in an attempt to wrest the indoor first division title from Inverleith. "It is important for the club that we win the title, we want to be Scottish champions again and get back into Europe," said Cuthill.
Cuthill himself played in the days when the Taysiders were regular recipients of the crown – Grove Menzieshill have been champions 19 times since 1985. But over the last three years it is Inverleith who have had possession of the crown and have played in Europe.
On the Inverleith match Cuthill said: "At this stage the result is not crucial although we will be able to gauge the level that we are with them, however it would be good to beat them."
Cuthill also sees Grange as a potential threat. "Grange might break into the monopoly depending on how committed they are to the indoor game. They have a good coach in David Knipe who knows a thing or two about the indoor game."
Uddingston were the shock troops last season, the newly promoted Lanarkshire side finished strongly in bronze medal place, beating Grange 2-0 in a penalty shoot-out after the sides were locked at 1-1 in normal time. This weekend they take on Western Wildcats and Kelburne, six points here would show that again Uddingston could be an influencing factor in the competition. Clydesdale, Hillhead and Wildcats make up the rest of the division, but their main concern could focus on retaining their top flight status.
The women`s competition will offer the opportunity for some players to make a name for themselves with the absence of Scotland squad players - they are training ahead of a warm weather camp in Gran Canaria in preparation for the World League in early February.
Even without defender Becky Ward and striker Charlotte Watson it is expected that Dundee Wanderers will stake a solid claim for another Scottish title. The champions have three games against a Western Wildcats side without player/coach Kareena Cuthbert, Inverleith and CALA Edinburgh at Forthbank on Sunday, and the target will be to ensure the nine points are on their way to Tayside.
With Vikki Bunce`s retiring from the international scene, the Wanderers` playmaker and main striker could be around to terrorise defences and may be a catalyst if the Taysiders` are to find a winning formula.
Traditionally Grove Menzieshill and Western have been the main threat to Wanderers` hegemony, but both will be short of their international players. However, the two sides meet in the penultimate outing of the day and the result could have a bearing on the main source of opposition to the champions as the season continues.
By then Western will be aiming to have picked up maximum points against Inverleith and Edinburgh University while Grove Menzieshill`s only earlier fixture is against Aberdeen Bon-Accord.
Wildcats have made considerable strides in the outdoor first division - currently they lie third - it will be interesting if they can transfer that progress to the indoor competition. While they face a battle against Wanderers, a convincing victory over Bon-Accord in their second outing could provide an early indication, though the Aberdonians will have something to say about that. Before CALA Edinburgh meet Wanderers in the final game of the day they will face Edinburgh University in an Edinburgh derby. Edinburgh will also face Western earlier in the day.