Monday, March 5, 2012

Feeling like mighty Zeus...

SSTMI Thunderbolts must have felt as mighty as the Greek thunder mythology god Zeus when they edged UniKL Young Guns for the Junior Hockey League double on Sunday.
And they have every reason to feel electrified, as they had thrashed every team in sight this season, except for UniKL, to pick up both the silverware.
However, other than the finalists, the rest of the JHL teams were just making up the numbers, including former six-time double champions Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS).
BJSS won the Milo Cup bronze and also finished third in Division One -- a pale shadow of their predecessors who won a whopping six Overall and seven league title from 2003 to 2009.
They only lost out on the double in 2006, when Petaling Jaya Municipal Council beat them to the Overall title.
The rot in BJSS set from 2010 onwards, when they were overtaken by Thunderbolts and UniKL.
There are many reasons why the sports school hit a bad patch, but the damning statement was from one seasoned coach who said parents are keeping their children away from the school.
“Hockey loving parents are no longer interested in sending their children to BJSS because of various reasons, which the school management is aware of but did little to address.
“So now, BJSS are left with crumbs to select from, and had had to make do with rejects from other clubs and states to form a team,” said the coach.
The BJSS nosedive is surprising, as their sister school Tengku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) which evolved from Bandar Penawar Sports School, are enjoying the cream of the crop.
It might be due to Tenaga Nasional’s sponsorship, hence the added name Thunderbolts, to help pump in the money while BJSS the poorer cousin are left with no holding power.
The other six teams in Division One, as well as the 17 teams in Division Two also faced the same problem, as they struggle to sign players as the best jostled and formed long queues to play for high-paying clubs.
Some 17-year-olds in the JHL earn more than RM1,500 per-month, and their contract runs for the whole year. This has left many teams in the lurch, as they struggle to rope in quality players.
Division Two champions Sapura, who made their JHL debut this year, is another club with cash which would be hoping to sign champion material starting from today.
However, the quality-players pie is small, and it will further shrink as players like Thunderbolts’ Milo Cup final hero Firhan Ashaari, will be overage next season and move up to the senior league.
Next year might just turn out to be another UniKL-Thunderbolts show, unless Sapura dangle a bigger carrot.

John Jackson's take

Written by Stephen Findlater on behalf of the Irish Hockey Association

Retiring never entered John Jackson's (right in pic) mind. A shattering blow could have placed his playing career in tatters, not to mention his dream of playing in the Olympic Games.
But throughout his convalescence, giving up the sport he loves never entered his mind, amazingly recovering not just to play again but also to now make a living in that very arena.
Eighteen months ago, a clash of heads at the pitch opening in Stormont in September 2010 left the Mossley man with a triple cheek-bone fracture and a double skull fracture. Furthermore, he was left with nerve and retinal damage which put his eye in serious jeopardy which left him without vision in his right eye for the best part of a month.
That was a scary experience. Bones heal but the biggest issue was my eye; I couldn t see out of it for three or four weeks and then had double-vision for another three weeks after that, he explained.
Many would have feared this was a potential death knell for a promising international career but Jackson s belief never wavered that he would return to the playing field, no matter the circumstances.
I didn t know if it would ever come back. But I always knew I would play again. There were a couple of weeks where I thought I don t know how I ll play with one eye .
That was what was going through my head. The doctors sorted me out with a couple of metal plates and some plastic inserts and, if anything, the right side of my head is now stronger than my left!
Such adversity often reveals character and Jackson is cherishing the opportunity to have his full range of vision available ahead with few lingering doubts despite the horror injury.
I suppose anybody who has had an injury will be apprehensive going into a challenge but after a while you get on with it.
In time, his vision came back with the defender particularly thankful to the work at Ulster Hospital in Dundonald as well as the support not just of my family but this Irish team. Well-wishers, texts and visitors helped me get back on course .
He is more than back on course, now. A sterling 2011 yielded the offer of a professional playing career in the game with Braxgata in Belgium, an opportunity he relishes, allowing him to play as a full-time athlete for the first time in his career.
And the experience has had a huge knock-on impact on the Irish team when they returned to camp after four months apart.
Life in Belgium is fantastic, something I wish I had of done sooner. Circumstances maybe didn t allow me to do that. I ve taken the opportunity in an Olympic year so I can focus on training and my hockey because that has to take priority.
It s a different culture, a different lifestyle but one that is going to set me up not just next year but in future life as well as a coach, as a hockey enthusiast; it s an experience I ll take with me.
The past few weeks with Ireland have been like a club season rolled into seven weeks. It s a lot more intense obviously because you need to cram in as much as you can into the time you have.
Guys have responded well; gone away with their respective clubs whether it be in Ireland or abroad and come back looking physically sharp. Everyone has improved their strength and conditioning scores from last year and that just shows everyone is pushing hard and realise what their dream is and are going to do everything that it takes to get it.
Pursuing that dream at this week s Olympic qualifiers, Jackson believes the side is in superb shape to break new ground and make it to London 2012.
It s not just been on the radar since the Europeans. For the past three or four years since being involved with Revs [Paul Revington], that s always been our number one target.
There is going to be life after these qualifiers and challenges after that the Champions Challenge and the European A division where we ll see if we can better our last position.
It s a fantastic coup to get the Electric Ireland Road To London qualifiers here and we re looking to qualify for the Olympics but also going so much further. After qualifying for one event, you want to make two, three, four or five events. Excited [about the qualifiers] but also excited about the prospect of the next few years of international hockey not just the next two weeks.
As Revs said at the end of our training session, if the qualifier were to start tomorrow, he thinks we are in a fantastic place and I agree with him. Guys are looking physically sharp even though there might be a few niggles. We re absolutely in the right place and we re in business.

Malaysia 0 Wales 1

MALAYSIA went down 1-0 to Wales in their second acclimatisation match in Cardiff on Sunday.
The national team played a totally different game than the earlier 3-1 win over the Welsh, as they battled the cold and damp conditions leading up to the Dublin Olympic Qualifier on March 10-18 in Ireland.
In the first friendly, Malaysia took a 3-0 lead before letting in a 69th minute goal, while on Sunday, they had their hands full trying to stop the Welsh from scoring.
But with five minutes remaining on the clock, the defenders went into sleep mode and allowed a shot from the top of the semi-circle to crash into their goal-mouth.
The match was live on twitter @HockeyWale and the damning revelation was that “Wales kept the ball well and forced the Malaysian’s to play their game!”
Malaysia never won any penalty corners but had to defend a handful, with goalkeeper S. Kumar pulling off some stunning saves to save the blushes.
For the record, Malaysia are ranked 13th in the World while Wales are No 27, 14 rungs below.
Malaysia will open accounts against World No 26 Chile on March 10, after which they meet World No 20 Russia and then World No 29th Ukraine.
And after the three winnable matches, as they square off against World No 6 South Korea and finally hosts Ireland who stand at No 16.
Ireland, on the other hand, scored a massive 9-0 and 4-0 wind against Czech republic, No 23, in their final friendlies before the Qualifier.