REVIEW: Hockey aiming to fortify 2017 successes

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Through its shrewd administration of the sport in 2017, the Guyana Hockey Board was able to deliver another year of positive developments, the highlight of which was the hosting of the prestigious Pan American Cup for the first time on these shores.

That apart, the Board pulled off another successful Diamond Mineral Water International Indoor Festival to cap off the year, while also hosting the Pan American Umpires Development Coordinator, who worked along with local officials to up their standard.

The Male and Female national teams also qualified for the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Baranquilla, Colombia, while the Board also continued its pursuit of having a designated home for hockey, further engaging the administration on land acquisition for such a facility.

News Room Sport Editor, Avenash Ramzan (AR), spoke to president of the Guyana Hockey Board, Philip Fernandes (PF), who outlined the gains made in 2017 and the plans for the upcoming 12 months.

Philip Fernandes

AR: Looking back at 2017, how would you describe the year in terms of the progress hockey has been able to make?

PF: I think 2017 has been one of our best years for hockey in Guyana and certainly since I have been involved in the administration of the sport.  We have a complete local season with more tournaments than we have had for some time and many of them have been geared toward the juniors where we had intended to place our focus.

In addition, we have managed to stage the highest profile hockey event ever in Guyana which was a huge success.  We took both our male and female senior teams to the CAC qualifiers in Jamaica and were successful with both teams making the finals and qualifying.  After such an active year, we still managed to pull off our annual marquee tournament in the Diamond Mineral Water Festival.

GCC Ladies won the Diamond Mineral Water tournament

In addition to the packed calendar for players, we have also been able to expose some of our officials by having two umpires travel overseas during the year to attend a course and officiate in tournaments.  We also hosted the Pan American Umpires Development Coordinator during our Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Festival where he observed and guided our local umpires as part of an effort to lift the regional standard of officiating.

We also were able to expose one of our match judges during the Indoor Pan American Cup here in Guyana which will go a long way in managing our matches during the season.

This has been indeed a landmark year for hockey and makes for a very exciting 2018 when we can see the benefit of our activities begin to bear fruit with increased numbers and higher quality of the game.

AR: Obviously the highlight of the year would have been the hosting of the Pan Am Championship for the first time. How big an undertaking was that for the Board and how did the team manage to pull off what was clearly a successful competition?

PF: The Indoor Pan American Cup was a huge undertaking and I am pleased that the Pan American Hockey federation had enough faith in us to award the competition to Guyana.  I believe that our successful hosting of the Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Hockey Festival was a key element in satisfying them that we are capable.

There were times when the task seemed a bit overwhelming as we began to prepare and realised the level of detail required by the International Federation, but our hockey community really stepped up to the challenge and were able to fill the gaps.

Female hockey had a solid year (Photo: Keno George)

This effort has made us on the Board more aware of the quality of human resources available to us for this purpose as our players, who are new to the game, volunteered their time to be liaison officers, ushers, set up and clean-up crew, ball technicians and so on.  The general support by our hockey community was tremendous.

The end result of us hosting was a big success. I am aware that there were a few voices in the Pan Am Federation who were concerned with whether a small country like Guyana could host the event, but we proved them wrong, as Guyana often does.  The spectator support was strong and teams all communicated that, apart from the matches, they also enjoyed the local hospitality and people.

AR: With success comes challenges; talk to us about some of the hurdles your executives faced in the administration of the sport in 2017.

PF: The lack of facilities for hockey continues to be a huge hurdle.  While we were able to complete a full season, many of our matches had to be rescheduled and played on substandard fields.  Hockey desperately needs a home and a field where this sport can be a priority.  This will relieve the issue of us needing to always wait for cricket grounds to become available for our matches to be played.

The Sports Hall was a welcome addition in 2017 to our possible facilities, which was made possible by the new tile floor. This facility however, along with the Gymnasium continues to be shared by all sports and so we all experience the same difficulty of frequent unavailability.

The other challenge is the early fading light for half of the year.  When players leave work at 4PM or later, it is difficult to get to the field, warm-up and still complete a full 70-minute match before it gets dark.  This is made worse during the latter half of the year as light fades earlier.  This means that there is a need for lights under which we can play the sport.

The National Gymnasium and Cliff Anderson Sports Hall are the main venues for hockey, but the Board has to compete with other disciplines for time slots

AR: How do you plan to overcome those challenges in 2018?

PF: We have submitted a document to the Minster of Sport identifying an area of land and the specifications needed for hockey.  We are hopeful that permission can be granted soon so that we can begin to prepare this space for hockey.  This may not be ready for most of the year, but it is one of the possible developments that would greatly help the sport.

Apart from facilities, our pool of players has remained too small to make any meaningful lasting mark on the international scene.  The number of junior players has now increased and this will improve this factor.  We now have to continue this effort in 2018 and the future to ensure that we always have great depth of talent from which to select our national teams.

In addition, we will be welcoming a coach from Australia to work with our local players and especially with the hope to further develop our CAC teams.  The coach is visiting on a volunteer basis, but we hope to be able to capitalise on his expertise and develop some of our local coaches while we lift the quality of our national teams.

AR: The discussion on a home for hockey has been ongoing for a while now. How soon could we see that project coming on stream?

PF: This project has been submitted to the Minister of Sport, who appears keen to assist in the development of our sport.  We do not have a timeframe for this or even whether it will be approved, but indications are positive so far and we remain hopeful to receive good news very soon.

Guyana’s male team has booked a place at the CAC Games

AR: In terms of new talents, are you satisfied with the level of influx you’ve seen over the last five years?

PF: We have been seeing some fantastic talent coming up from our junior programmes over the past few years.  Our national coaches have been exposing young players in their squads and our last few international outings have afforded several junior players, which gives us great depth going forward.

I think that right now talent-wise, especially in the men’s game, we have some of the most talented players that Guyana has produced in recent times.  These players have learned the game from a younger age than many of those in the past and this is a result of them receiving quality training from a young age.

AR: Looking ahead to 2018, what are the aims and objectives of the Guyana Hockey Board?

PF: For the first time in history, both the men’s and women’s hockey teams of Guyana will be attending the CAC Games.  These games are scheduled for late July 2018 in Baranquilla, Colombia.  Guyana has never medalled in the CAC Games for hockey, but I feel that our current crop of players have a shot at doing so.

Much work needs to be done however, and we are once again facing the handicap of training on improvised surfaces while all other competitors of the games have a domestic artificial pitch on which to train.

The national female team is heading to the CAC Games this year

In addition to our ambitious national programme, we intend to duplicate last year’s local calendar which contained a number of senior and junior competitions.  The junior schedule is a welcome addition to our regular programme and will provide the players for our next Under-21 teams.  We hope to compile male and female squads this year to begin training together for the preparation of our next junior national teams.

We have plans to run off at least one coaching course this year and are also looking for ways to expose some of our officials maybe by sending them to any regional competitions.

Of course we will also end our year with the usual Diamond Mineral Water Festival, which is now in its 13th year and we already have indications that the 2018 edition may be one of our biggest.

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