As most of us are just shedding off the Christmas excess and getting used to playing again outside in the cold, the indoor competition is already reaching its crescendo, the Hockey 5s finals.
In its second year as a five-a-side format, the finals return once again to the SSE Arena at Wembley on Sunday (January 25).
In the women’s competition, seemingly perennial finalists Bowdon Hightown will face off against East Grinstead. Bowdon’s top scorer Sally Walton has notched up an impressive 20 goals in the lead up to the finals, with her team winning five of their eight fixtures, drawing one and losing two.
Speaking of their achievement in narrowly beating Canterbury (5-4) to reach the finals, evergreen goal-machine Tina Cullen, said: “Semi-finals are always really tough as there’s so much to gain but also so much to lose.
“We’re really pleased to get to Wembley and we hope we can give a better account of ourselves than last year. The girls are really delighted to have made the final.”
Their opponents also won eight of their lead-up matches, losing two and drawing one, with indoor import Sophie Bray racking up 12 goals in the process.
Captain JoJo Davis said her team have nothing to fear come Sunday.
She said: “We fancy ourselves in the final we’re quietly confident in our abilities.
“We’re a squad and we don’t depend on one or two players we are a unit and we rotate the players regularly and it’s a squad performance that we thrive on.”
In the men’s competition, which unlike the women’s, traditionally incorporates both the semi-final matches before the finals, Kent side Sevenoaks bring their South Premier League 1 credentials to an otherwise, all Premier League party. Filling up the other three slots are Hockey5s regulars, East Grinstead, Reading and Canterbury.
With Trinidad and Tobago international Kwan Browne pulling the strings, Canterbury have won five matches, and lost three so far in the competition, with Ben Allberry notching 18 goals in the process. However captain, Tom Richford believes his side can push on from here. Here said: “We’ve performed well in places, but we know we haven’t performed at the level we’re capable of.
“When we play to the best of our ability we’re arguably the best indoor team in the league so we think we’ve got every chance of doing really well at Wembley.”
Reading’s top scorer has been John Jackson with 11 goals so far as the boys in blue have notched up four wins, one draw and three losses. However Reading are a side who always play up to a crowd and with the Blue Army no doubt in good showing in the crowd, you can never write them off too early. Captain Chris Newman said: “We haven’t managed to score as many goals last year, but we set the foundations of being really disciplined and staying strong in defence from the very start of the league and I think that’s been the key to us getting to Wembley again.”
Sevenoaks have scored 40 goals in their road to Wembley, 10 of those coming from the stick of George Torry. Despite their lower outdoor ranking, Sevenoaks have strong indoor pedigree and buoyed by a strong season from newcomer Dominic Bowden, captain Chris Barker believes his side are still capable of an upset. He said: “Dominic has been great for us. He’s scored goals added some composure and made a real difference adding to what we already had.
“Our strength comes from our coach, Richard Payne. We’re very tactically switched on and that all comes from him. We really buy into what he’s trying to get us to do and it makes a big difference having him there.”
Finally, defending champions East Grinstead, who have netted 61 times in getting to the semi-finals, with tenacious Scottish star and captain Niall Stott bagging 19 of those. EG have the best record coming into the finals with seven wins and just one loss, which might go some way to explain them being crowned champions six consecutive times . With Ashley Jackson unavailable due to playing in the HIL, EG will be looking to veteran Glenn Kirkham to provide experience and surety alongside the undeniable quality of the EG squad as a whole. Stott said: “The first weekend was key for us winning five out of five and putting ourselves top of the league going into the second weekend of matches.
“Our aim for the season was to go undefeated so it was really disappointing to lose quite heavily to Holcombe, but we’ve finished top of the table again and look forward to a semi final clash against rivals Reading.”
The competition kicks off at Wembley with the women’s final at 12.30pm.
For tickets or more information, visit www.englandhockey.co.uk.