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Army Hockey U23 Tour

Scotland 24th to 31st Oct 12

Following the success of last year’s tour, it was agreed by the AHA to allow the Junior squad to tour Scotland once again. The aspiration to take a larger squad of players (18) and to support this tour with a full compliment of coaches (4) and officials (2) was agreed and supported with £2K funding with an individual contribution set at £70 per person to meet all costs.

The aims of the tour were to develop the next generation of Army hockey players, provide an opportunity for newly qualified coaches to further develop their coaching skills and to educate the next gen players in the Black Arts of Umpiring.

As with most of my squads, it rapidly became obvious that getting 18 players would prove to be difficult, with a number of known players deployed on Ops, Training for Deployment, career courses, attachments to all parts of the World, short term injuries, the final squad of 13 players although not my first choice arrived in Birmingham at the start of the tour. Introductions were made and a squad in high spirits departed for our first fixture on the Wednesday evening, our opponents, Inverleith HC, the current Scottish National Indoor champions would prove to be a very stiff challenge.

Although not their full first team squad, (only 2 players) with the rest being made up of second team players, this fixture would offer my squad the ideal opportunity to see how the game should be played. In a very competitive and fast paced game (3 x 20 minute periods) the final result 6 -1 to Inverlieth achieved all of my aims, the squad was not overawed by our opposition, all players got pitch time, and as the game went on, players began to understand the indoor game, their specific roles and those squad members that had not played or even seen and indoor game before began to develop as indoor players. Our goal came from open player with all players on the pitch contributing and Pte Gary Clark (27 Regt RLC) converting the tap in. A 21st birthday party for LCpl Aaron Wickham (5RMP) convinced me to allow the squad to help him celebrate this event in the Scottish Capital that night.

We departed from Edinburgh, after the arrival of our final tour member, Pte (Bieber) Markhew (2LSR) after breakfast with the plan to get to our tour location by 1130 hrs as we had a full days activities planned upon arrival.

Accommodated and fed, we left to take in some local culture, Glenlivet was the selected location and an introduction to the local produce, a mention that we were an Army team on tour, gained further sampling time from our tour guide for the visit, who was very generous with his sample sizes and refills. LCpl Gaz Hughes (30 Sigs) was not overly keen on the sampling, however, when mixed with ice cream managed 4 helpings.

Friday started with a (short) fitness run to get rid of any aches and pains in preparation of our evening fixtures. Gaz (I’ve hurt my ankle) Hughes limped back whilst the rest of the squad completed the distance, a bit of ice and TLC from Spr Chris Tyrell (1 RSME) seemed to do the trick and a bit of bandaging saw the entire squad fit and ready for our next opponents, North U21 team. In a close and very competitive match with the Army side dominating for large parts of the match saw us win by 4-3 with goals from Pte Gary Clark (2), Gaz Hughes and Chris Markhew on his debut. Our following fixture was a mixed North U21 and Aberdeen based club players. The team was now developing an understanding of Indoor Hockey, the different rules and style of play, whilst we dominated much of the game, our lack of experience was exposed on a number of occasions by our more experienced opponents and a narrow 4-3 loss was still a very creditable performance, goals from Pte Ben Smith (23 Pnr Regt), Pte Jez Done (AMS) and LCpl Tom Kitley (3 AAC att REME). Note at this time should also be made of the performance our 2 goal keepers, Pte Darren (Grannie) Richardson (24 Regt RLC), the joker in the pack and Pte Chris Tyrell, both had performed well above expectations and had got the defence out of trouble on a number of occasions.

Saturday was a day of, however, with the overnight snow fall of 4 inches in some places, the planned mountain bike ride was participated in more reluctantly by some than others, again Grannie proved to be a leading light, leading from the front but a line in the sand was draw by all when he tried to do tree climbing, however, if the trip goes ahead again next year, this activity will be included in the itinerary. Many thanks to Spr Andy Lange (26 Regt RE) for leading the group and ensure that they all came back in relatively one piece. This event was the warmer into the bank for the days main event, sampling the delights of Aviemore, a suitable dress team visited the local nightlife to sample what it had to offer on Halloween Night.

After a late start, the mid morning run in the cool fresh air blew out most of the team’s cobwebs, left over from the night before; we departed for Aberdeen for our final indoor opponents, Granite City Warriors, another Scottish National League team. However, after our previous performances the team confidence was high.

Our first game resulted in a 4 -2 victory with goals from Aaron Wickham, Gary Clark, Gaz Hughes and Jez Done which showed just how much the team had developed and improved. Our second fixture, against the same team was probably our best performance of the entire tour, we utilised the entire squad and in the second half, left of what would be my starting line up in the Inter Services .A 6-4 score line did not reflex our dominance of the game with goals from Tom Kitley, Chris Markhew, Andy Lange, Aaron Hall (16 Regt RA), Jez Done and Gary Clark.

We then moved outdoors for our last 2 fixtures, the first against Highlands HC based in Inverness. In very cold and windy conditions, my small squad of players, most of whom were paying out of position played with a belief, commitment and style of play that was a credit to them. A 2 – 0 fist half lead was well deserved and a fair reflection of the game. The second half was more even but a further goal by Jez Done before a consolation goal from our opponents resulted in a 3-1 scoreline.

Our final fixture on the last day of the tour was against Gordonstoun School, by this stage the thinness of my squad was beginning to be tested, a number of players were carrying injuries and as a result, Chris Tyrell was drafted in to play outfield. A very well drill and organised Gordonstoun team dominated the game for long periods and were well worth their 2-0 halftime advantage. This was extended early in the second half before we got a gaol against the run of play with some smart midfield work between Aaron(s) Wickham and Hall with Jez Done converting the opportunity. This seemed to change the flow of the game, the team gained confidence and some surging runs from Gary Clark from Midfield and some excellent of the ball movement from Sig Randy Thomas (10 Sigs) the game became to change. Gary Clark then picked up an ankle injury resulting in him having to leave the field. This injury resulted in some changes of position but not in performance, 2 further goals from Gaz Hughes and Ben Smith to bring the game back to all square reflected how the balance of the game had changed. Gordonstoun to their credit again came back at us with renewed vigour, some desperate defending and goal mouth clearances kept us in the game which now had become a very open match. A penalty stoke awarded to Gordonstoun was saved by Grannie Richardson low down to his right and with less than a minute to go a further penalty stroke was again awarded to the school. With almost the last touch of the ball Richardson once again came to the rescue of the team saving the ball in the bottom corner of the goal again.

On balance a game we did well to draw, but what pleased me more was the never say die attitude all of my squad players and in all of the games we had played, they all were committed to the team, they maintained their personal discipline and did not challenge any of the umpiring decisions, this must be a first for the U23 team.

Would we like to tour Scotland again next year, yes, for the simple reason it develops the squad, enables the management to introduce young players to the game of Indoor Hockey which they are not getting at Corps level, only 3 of my squad of players played for their respective Corps this year. It is cost effective and affordable for the players, yes it is nice to tour abroad but with this age group, only 1 of my current squad played in last year’s Indoor Tournament, most of this group will although still eligible for the team be on Ops as currently 9 of last years squad are. All of our opponents on this years tour are keen to host us again next year, dates have been put in diaries, Highland HC have agreed to move the fixture Indoors, Gordonstoun School are purchasing Indoor goals and rebound boards so if supported by AHA, I will have 8 hours of Indoor hockey, plus some much needed trg time on pitches, all at no cost to AHA, and one outdoor fixture against Gordonstoun as well.

The 2 Umpires, Jim Patel and Terry Lees I hope had a good week of hockey, plenty of rest as both seemed to enjoy the room to spread out and get some shut eye whilst we drove to the fixtures. The players gained more respect for them both and both are keen to repeat the experience again next year as well. I just need to ensure that I get the 4 coaches to support the tour.