The Hockey Paper - - MEN'S SUPER 6S - Irvine Nick

The road to Wem­b­ley is a short one. To reach In­door Hockey’s glit­ter­ing show­biz fi­nale at the SSE Arena teams need to gain one of four semi-fi­nal spots on of­fer over two week­ends ei­ther side of the Christmas and New Year fes­tiv­i­ties.

There is no short­age of en­thu­si­asm among the com­pet­ing squads but those squads look a bit thin­ner than per­haps they once did with so many star names opt­ing out of the in­door game in favour of ei­ther a mid-winter break and Christmas shop­ping or, for some, the lure of the big money on of­fer in the In­dian Hockey League.

For those of us brought up on the ex­cite­ment of Fi­nals Night and, more re­cently, the all day Wem­b­ley ex­trav­a­ganza, it’s a cry­ing shame that so many of the big stars are miss­ing out but what an op­por­tu­nity for oth­ers to step into the Wem­b­ley spot­light just as Ash­ley Jack­son’s tal­ents were first made pub­lic at the start of East Grin­stead’s in­cred­i­ble run of eight straight ti­tles.

Among the faith­ful who trav­elled in search of a star (and Broms­grove in De­cem­ber is no Bethlehem!) there was still the same pas­sion that the fast-paced, high-scor­ing ver­sion of hockey has al­ways in­cul­cated.

Richard Or­gan, for so long a lead­ing ex­po­nent of the in­door craft and artistry as a player is now pass­ing on his ex­per­tise as coach to the hugely suc­cess­ful East Grin­stead club as they look to con­tinue their streak. Richard also has the un­en­vi­able task of chair­ing the Eng­land Hockey In­door Com­mit­tee against a back­drop of a struc­ture that fails to buy into the ben­e­fits of the in­door core skills to the out­door game.

“For me it’s sim­ple. I use in­doors in my coach­ing through­out the year. If you’ve got good skills: the abil­ity to stop and pass the ball, to make space for your­self and your team­mates, you will be a re­ally good hockey player. The re­quired skill set is mag­ni­fied in­doors where the in­ten­sity is greater and you have to make good de­ci­sions un­der pres­sure. I think it should be an in­te­gral part of our coach­ing – par­tic­u­larly for young play­ers.”

Eng­land’s head coach for both Men and Women’s In­door squads, Andy Hal­l­i­day, is uniquely placed to see and per­haps un­ravel the dilemma. Hal­l­i­day in his play­ing days was some­thing of an In­door spe­cial­ist in a St Al­bans side who were as dom­i­nant then as East Grin­stead are to­day.

“The ad­vent of 3D skills in the out­door game has changed things,” he told me. “The tight mark­ing and low de­fend­ing skills that used to be so vi­tal can look very planted and flat footed to­day.”

An­other for­mer in­door star, Mark Pearn, is now player-coach with the am­bi­tious Sur­biton Club sees it slightly dif­fer­ently;

“For me it’s about the im­proved un­der­stand­ing of space, where you move to, find­ing the chan­nels. A good in­door player takes those skills out­doors where there is more time to make de­ci­sions. First touch is key, then it’s know­ing where the space is, be­ing dis­ci­plined and work­ing as a team – all trans­fer­able skills. Great sides pool all the ex­pe­ri­ences. At EG we had Richard (Le­man) and Scott (Ash­down) but once we got on the court each player had to make their own de­ci­sions. It’s not about great in­di­vid­u­als so much as cre­at­ing fan­tas­tic teams.”

But what to the cur­rent play­ers think? Si­mon Faulkner cap­tains East Grin­stead and hopes to be lift­ing the tro­phy again at Wem­b­ley:

“We are aware of the pres­sure on us as we look to cre­ate an in­door dy­nasty at the club. I joined when the likes of Mark (Pearn ) and Glen Kirkham were com­ing to­wards the end of their play­ing ca­reers at EG. Now with a new squad there is a will­ing­ness to con­tinue win­ning.

“I have ben­e­fit­ted from play­ing in­doors in Ger­many with Blau Weiss and I would love to see a longer in­door sea­son in Eng­land too. The Ger­man con­veyor belt of suc­cess is built on de­vel­op­ing great core skills via the in­door game.”

An­other who has ben­e­fit­ted from the Ger­man league ex­pe­ri­ence is for­mer Har­veste­huder and now Sur­biton high scorer Bren­dan Creed. He said: “The big dif­fer­ence is the ju­nior set up. In my club we had four or five teams per age group play­ing in­doors all with great core skills. I’d love to see more of an in­door sea­son as its pretty much a dif­fer­ent game.”

But what of Wem­b­ley? Can Sur­biton end East Grin­stead’s in­cred­i­ble run of ti­tles?

“Well it would be naive to get too far ahead of our­selves. We are a new team but we just want to put our­selves in a po­si­tion where we have the chance,” added Bren­dan.

Pearn added: “My heart and head are with Sur­biton now and in­door hockey needs a new cham­pion. If we can give our­selves the op­por­tu­nity we won’t miss it.”

The in­door game and its fu­ture con­tin­ues to di­vide opin­ion but those who are its keen­est pro­po­nents have lost none of their pas­sion for the com­pe­ti­tion.

The Ger­man con­veyor belt of suc­cess is built on de­vel­op­ing great core skills via the in­door game

All about space: Mark Pearn is player-coach at Sur­biton

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