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Back You are here: Home Sports Hockey Kwa Zulu Natal KZN Inland Hockey- Why So Dominant
Monday, 31 August 2009 09:18

KZN Inland Hockey- Why So Dominant

It has been a region that has developed some of South Africa's most talented hockey players over the decades and each year that passes a new crop of youngsters embark on the journey of once again reaching the highest honors in the sport and representing their country.

However to be able to consistently churn out star performers year in and year out is phenomenal especially since we are talking about a very small geographical area which is primarily made up of just 4 schools who form the foundation of the KZN Inland's hockey strength. Highlighting why many view them as the most dominant hockey region in South Africa was when both the KZN Inland's u18 and u16 teams ran out winners of the recently held Inter Provincial Tournaments in East London and Potchefstroom. So prevailing were the KZN Inland teams that the selection for the SA U18 and SA u16 teams saw a staggering 12 players out of a possible 16 coming from amongst their players which further served to underline their supremacy in the sport.

This happened to be the fifth time in the past eleven years that saw the Inland u18 team claiming the highest trophy in schoolboy hockey, a record of success that is unmatched. "The Inland u18 boys were deserved winners, they came out of their blocks firing on day 1 and were in excellent form," says the coach of the KZN Inland u18 team Alan Redfern. With the u16 team proving to be the best in the country there is every reason to expect strong teams in the near future.

However this success has not come about by chance, what we are talking about here is a region that has developed a hockey culture that virtually has no parallel anywhere else in the country. Scratching a little deeper one finds a number of reasons why the KwaZulu-Natal Inland teams do have the edge over their rivals.

Perhaps their biggest advantage is their proximity. In the Midlands region there are only 4 schools that make up the team and provide the top players. "These are 4 very good schools with excellent coaching and a great hockey culture. Take for example Mike Bechet at Maritzburg College, he is the present National Convener of Selectors for the Men's Hockey team and he has 25 years of top coaching and history, you can't buy that. Hilton College with Gavin Thompson also has an awesome setup there with good structures and Alan Redfern who has won 5 IPT's is at Michaelhouse and he is probably the best schoolboy coach in the country. St. Charles also is right up there with some good structures in place," mentions the Chairman of KZN Inland Hockey, Brandon Swart.  Able to draw quality players from such a concentrated area has its advantages in being able to have a really good build up to a tournament because all the players are within half an hour of Pietermaritzburg which is their central training venue.

Talk to any coach in the Midlands area who is involved in schoolboy hockey and ask them why they enjoy so much success and all will tell you that there is a very sturdy hockey culture in the area and particularly amongst the top schools. One would imagine that this would be a draw card for players from all over the country to seek out opportunities to play hockey for these schools but very few players are not from the KZN province. "There hasn't really been many players who have come from other provinces and we have managed to secure the bulk of the talented players in KwaZulu-Natal. Clinton Panther of Michaelhouse was probably the first player from outside KZN to come to the Midlands and the u18 team is the stronger for it because he is a brilliant player who will go all the way that I have no doubt," mentions Coach Brandon Swart.

In addition this area boasts some of the finest hockey fields amongst schools anywhere in South Africa with all 4 schools being equipped with AstroTurf and Maritzburg College being the only school that has a water based turf. This means that along with the nearby AB Jackson fields the Inland teams can put in some thorough and specialized training for the tournaments.

What does raise a question though is why the KZN Coastal teams although competitive do not have the same supremacy and are viewed as the poorer cousins in the province although they have a far greater amount of schools to draw their players from. From what other people have said it is because of the level of seriousness that the KZN Inland teams puts into their training and preparation. There is a definite professional element in their teams. As Coach Swart says, "the coaches are very serious and we are result orientated and there is definitely a different culture amongst the Midlands teams compared to the Coastal teams. It's the little things that make the difference that make us just that much more professional, when we go tour and play in the IPT we are not going there to watch movies or go to the malls, we are there to win and the players have bought into that professionalism."

Perhaps having fewer schools to choose players from also has its advantages as when you look at the core players which make up the KZN Inland team you see that they are a very tight unit, for example Martizburg College provided players for half the teams, so the knowledge that they have of one another is that much greater. A case of less is more in this instance could be true.

The IPT seemed to be fairly one sided when one looks at the results with both the Inland u18 and u16 teams winning their first 4 pool matches, progressing to the semi finals and finishing off victorious in their respective finals. "In the u18 IPT it was clear that the KZN Inland team was the team to beat right from the start with a great 18-0 win against Mpumalanga and by all accounts they were streaks ahead of the competition. The U16 KZN Inland team too was drawn in a very strong pool but they managed to sweep most of the teams aside with little resistance," Coach Swart mentioned adding that, they played very well as a team although on paper they were probably a little weak but they had an excellent captain and a good team vibe. The Western Province side was definitely the team to beat at the tournament and they deserved their place in the final. Along with the Inland team their basic skills were better than any other team, which gave them a wider base to work on. The Western Province side managed to put 6 players into the SA u16 side and they were possibly man for man the better team with Wynberg and SACS traditionally good feeders for hockey.

One stand out performance amongst the Inland u16's was Grant Glutz who is an exciting talent still only a Grade 10 boy, Glutz has been the starting centre striker for Maritzburg College this year and at the IPT nobody was really able to stop him as he ran riot. Noted as player for the future he is a prolific striker and ended up the top goalscorer at the IPT with 12 goals.


So what of the boys who gained selection into their respective national sides? Although each of the 12 players played exceptionally and can look forward to a bright future in the sport there are a few who reflected a class that is hitherto not seen amongst schoolboy hockey players. "Take Thutuka Goba who has now made the SA U18 side for the second year in the row, he is just something else in terms of ability and is a great goalkeeper. Then we have Clinton Panther who is a sensational player who is very special and has a great future in the game. Then we have Matthew Guise-Brown who is the drag flick sensation, he has broken the College goal scoring record this year scoring 48 goals in the year and was the top goal scorer with 11 goals at the IPT. He has been a big factor for Maritzburg College's results this year, if you get penalty corners he is going to score 1 out of 3, his big thing is physical conditioning, his arms and forearms are strong and that is what has made him the flicker that he is," says Coach Swart.

With SA Hockey finally looking like they are getting structures in place to facilitate senior teams that can compete on the world stage, there is even more incentive for schoolboy hockey players to embrace the sport and make a career out of the game. The Education Department being the custodian sponsors of school hockey in KZN has plowed R2 million into the sport over the past 2 years which has provided a solid foundation which will likely guarantee that the region continues to produce strong teams.

But will the KZN Inland teams remain as dominant in the future as they are today? "Well the dynamic is shifting, the whole bursary war has now moved to hockey too. Whereas in the past the midlands schools could rely on good hockey players coming from the region we now are faced with some schools who are prepared to offer 100% bursaries for hockey which is usually unheard of. Parents understand that College might be the place to go to pursue a hockey career but if they are offered an absolute freebee from another school, and with the financial times that we live in it is not so easy to lure the players to the midlands. However I still think we have a very strong core, but the challenge for us is to see if we can cope with this change," says Brandon Swart is summing up the future of the game in the KZN midlands.


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