Province poised for win

2008-05-02 00:00

The Men’s Hockey Interprovincial Tournament begins in Potchefstroom tomorrow and continues until next Saturday’s finals at the Absa Puk-NWU Hockey Stadium.

Defending champions Western Province again look the likely winners. Last year’s runners-up, KZN Midlands, may have their work cut out making the top two as there are likely to be strong challenges once more from the likes of Northern Gauteng, Southern Gauteng, KZN Coastal and hosts North West.

An interesting aspect of this year’s IPT is the looming presence of the Olympic Games in Beijing three months from now. The quadrennial event overshadows all hockey this year, and has led to the provincial coaches being faced with a number of conundrums.

The Resolution South Africa team are leaving shortly after the IPT for a four-nations tournament at the Olympic venue in China. In order to keep the SA players fresh, national coach Gregg Clark has decided that those players are allowed to play only four matches out of the seven at IPT.

In the case of Midlands, for example, this means that Darryn Gallagher and 2007 SA Player of the Year Tommy Hammond — both key contributors in the province’s best- ever IPT performance last year — will have a severely rationed role this time round.

For a province with a relatively small player base, this cuts deeply into their chances of another appearance in the final — a final they came within a whisker of winning in 2007.

Western Province too have a problem. They have a larger number of SA players in their ranks, so juggling their four-match ration is going to require considerable thought.

Blessed with a healthier, high-quality player base, though, Province should be able to jump this hurdle.

But like Midlands, they have another problem. The SA U21 team are also taking part in this IPT, and also in the national interest as they have Junior World Cup hurdles in mind. Western Province and Midlands have players in this side, too.

As if coaches and management didn’t have enough to think about, there is also the question of teams complying with SA Hockey’s transformation requirements, which hits some provinces harder than others.

Of course, these are just a couple of examples of what almost all the IPT participants face to a greater or lesser degree. Given the above, it makes for a fascinating IPT that is likely to be unique in the different pressures the teams will face.

oJonathan Cook will be covering the Men’s hockey IPT for The Witness and Weekend Witness from Potchefstroom.

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