No clear favourite for national men’s hockey title

2009-08-13 00:00

THE 18-team National Men’s Interprovincial Hockey Tournament starts at the AB Jackson Greenfields Turf and Maritzburg College’s Pape’s Astro on Monday — and the signs are there that this year’s fight for the Men’s IPT Shield will be tougher than ever.

Coach Jock Coombes and captain Darryn Gallagher lead a young KZN Inland team into battle for the title, which climaxes with the final at the ABJ next Saturday at 3.10 pm.

The Men’s IPT Shield is a trophy every one of the 300 provincial players in Pietermaritzburg next week would love to win. Unfortunately, other than a fair number of the Western Province team, virtually no one else who will be in the KZN capital can lay claim to that honour.

Last year in Potchefstroom, WP won an epic final 3-1 against Gauteng hockey heavyweights, the Johannesburg-based Southerns. The year before in East London, the powerful Province squad shaded KZN Inland 2-1 in an equally thrilling encounter, so there are quite a few players in both teams who have been “close but no cigar”.

Realistically, though, only the eight teams in the A Section can win the Shield, the other 10 sides competing for the B Section title — their final is at 11.50 am next Saturday.

This year, the consensus in pre-IPT discussions appears to be that any one of Western Province, Southern Gauteng, Northern Gauteng, KZN Coastal, Eastern Province and hosts KZN Inland can lay serious claim to the title.

The remaining top eight squads, WP Peninsula and North West, are not regarded as having the necessary consistency over five days of white-hot hockey to win the Shield, but are still capable of producing an upset that could ruin a team’s title chances.

The pool system is so immediate and unforgiving that a loss on day one could conceivably wreck a team’s hopes.

KZN Inland are in Pool A, widely regarded as the “Pool of Death” due to the strength of the opposition. On Tuesday Inland meet the strong KZN Coastal line-up; Wednesday it’s Southern Gauteng and Thursday it’s the unpredictable Eastern Province — all at 3.10 pm on the ABJ.

Like the other teams in Pool A, there are no “help yourself” points for Inland. Every minute of every pool game could make the difference between a berth in the Friday’s semi-finals, with a shot at the title still in prospect, or anything from positions five to eight.

The format essentially means that for every IPT Shield team, every single match needs to be regarded as a final.

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