Photo Courtesy of John O'Brien | First Focus Photography
Lifestyle Ford sponsored East Grinstead Hockey Club Mens 1st XI start the defence of their National League title this weekend with experienced new faces among their international ranks.
Their campaign starts at Cannock on Sunday and manager Matt Jones is under no illusions his English champion team is the one to beat.
After winning the premier division title, Grinstead also triumphed in the National League outdoor version of the game and reached the last eight in the Euro Hockey League.
“It’s a tough challenge,” admitted Jones. “The side will take time to settle and our performance levels have been improving in pre-season games, but don’t read too much into those results.
“Whereas a few years ago we were looking to compete with the likes of Cannock and Reading, we are now regarded as big guns in our own right.
“Our outstanding results last season have put us up there, and the season will be tough in that respect.
“The hardest part is getting up and motivating ourselves. We will have to match our opponents in the mental side of playing as well as the physical.
“It is crucial we drive forward, continue to progress and develop. We are fortunate that our progression in recent years has been upward, but we remain realistic about what is achievable and everyone is a threat,” he added.
Having lost German international Martin Haner back to his homeland, Grinstead have spent the close season finding more defensive cover to fill his shoes and players with the ability to take successful penalty corners.
Gareth Carr, South Africa’s leading penalty corner specialist, has joined the squad along with Rick Gay who succeeds in the same department.
Jack Marfleet has made an excellent recovery from a severe cruciate ligament injury having been playing for England A two years ago. He had been making good progress on the injury before picking up a viral infection which took a further eight months of recovery.
He will also be looking to restore his place in the England side.
Scottish and GB international Niall Stott, who has played at two Olympics (Athens and Beijing) has a EHL gold medal from two years ago, and is regarded by Jones as “a fantastic talent”.
The club has also earmarked a number of promising young talented players coming into the squad in the form of Harry Thomas and Chris Hardy.
For the defence of their double outdoor titles, Grinstead hope to have Ashley Jackson, currently playing in Holland, available.
With so many internationals, call ups for their country’s will impact on the squad, but Jones is confident they have the strength in depth to cover.
“We are faced with a massive task to emulate our achievements, but we relish the challenge,” he added.
“The youngsters have a great opportunity to put in their bid for a place, and the inevitable unavailability of our internationals give them another chance to grasp the opportunity and show us what they can do,” he added.
Grinstead have also recently teamed up with Multi-franchise car dealer Group Lifestyle Europe. Who’s successes over recent years provide a very positive platform on which to build a further winning formula.
Carys Jukes, Group E-Commerce Manager at Lifestyle is very positive about the the blossoming relationship.
“As a business we greatly admire East Grinstead’s approach and are proud to be involved with an organisation who share our drive and passion to be at the top of our game”.
East Grinstead’s first home National League game will be on September 26 against Brooklands, 5.30 pm push back.