At the conclusion of the 2019 NSW Over 40/45 State Championships, the NSW teams to contest the Australian Men's Masters Hockey Championships were named.
As with 2018, I was lucky enough to be named as Manager of the Over 40/2's (the Waratahs). This team was a relatively inexperienced team, with only six players returning from the 2019 squad. Sadly, in the lead up to the championships, 2 of those players were forced to withdraw, but another 2018 squad member was called up from the shadows. Overall, the team was hit with 5 withdrawals and 1 promotion to the Over 40/1's. Whilst only 5 players were returning from 2018, there were also 5 players who had played in the Over 40/3's in 2018, along with 2 players returning from previous years, giving us a good amount of experience in the team.
Prior to the championships we were advised that with only two states (NSW and QLD) entering a second team in the Over 40's division, we would be playing in the A Division competition. While not ideal, this gave us the opportunity to gauge ourselves against quality opponents. The team was excited to be given the opportunity to play against the higher standard of players even though the likely outcome was missing out on a medal.
It was apparent from game 1 that the standard of play we would be encountering far exceeded what many of the team expected. Despite the leadership group trying to convey how good the level of play would be, many of the team were surprised by the standard of play exhibited by South Australia. Of course, having a couple of former Kookaburra's in the side made a big difference,
Game 2 was without question the worst experience for the team. It is rare in most players career that they will be part of a team that concedes more than 10 goals in a game. Sadly this was one of those games. Western Australia, with their vastly experienced squad, ran riot over us in our only game in Busselton. The outcome wasn't made any easier by having to play in high heat and humidity. It graphically highlighted the skill difference between a squad of PL3/PL4 players being matched against a team of PL1/PL2 players.
Victoria in game 3 wasn't much easier than WA. Although the boys kept putting in the hard yards, the experience and skill difference was again evident.
At the end of the pool matches, we were in the bottom half of the draw, so playing for 5th - 8th place. Thankfully, the NSW Over 40/1's team played well enough to sneak into the top half of the draw, meaning we avoided a nasty blue vs blue clash,
Game 4 was against Queensland 2, the team that had beaten us in the final in 2018. This match carried a bit of extra passion, as the Queensland team boasted a player that had played for us in 2018, meaning there were bragging rights on the line. Not only did QLD win those bragging rights, but he grabbed a couple of goals against us as well. Well played Rusty!
Our final cross-over match was against the local team, Western Australia Country. Disappointed at not making the top half of the draw, their manager Dean Lomax had them wound up and despite holding them early, our run of defeats continued.
Surprisingly, our qualification match, playing for nothing but pride, was against South Australia. Played in the cool of the evening, SA made up their mind to finish on a high and sliced through our defensive efforts, finishing their championships with a comprehensive victory.
Even with good intentions and continued effort, the Waratahs were unable to secure a win during the championships. The difference between playing in A vs B Division was clear and obvious. Despite the results, most players expressed a desire to return in 2020, albeit fitter and lighter with a desire to prove to themselves they are capable of playing at the higher level of skill and intensity that representative hockey offers.
Voting after each match resulted in one of our Vice-Captains, Scott Baker picking up the Players Player mug, with consistent performances in all matches.
I'd like to thank the leadership group of Craig Knowles (C), Scott Baker (VC) and Dean Whipp (VC) for their efforts before and during the tournament to mould this group into a cohesive unit. I look forward to seeing many of this playing group back in NSW colours in 2020.
- Images from TigerTurf AU