Return of national players gives Easts extra surge this year
IN an Olympic year and with two national players back coaching, Paul Malcolm sees an exciting year ahead for Easts Hockey Club.
After weathering last year's COVID storm without losing many players, Malcolm was confident the Tigers would field competitive teams across the Ipswich competition grades this season.
Having two players with international experience return to the A-Grade coaching ranks is a massive boost.
Former Australian Country teammates Chris Fazel and Chris Mantell are guiding the Tigers top men's and women's sides respectively in the 2021 Ipswich competition starting March 12.
Defence force sportsman Fazel has come back from Townsville, having played for Easts some years ago.
"I heard on the grapevine that he was getting deployed back in Ippy so I got on the phone and he agreed to sign up as the A-Grade coach,'' Malcolm said.
"He (Fazel) has represented Australia at the country level and played with Chris (Mantell) at the Australian Country as well as being captain of the Norths Brisbane first grade side for a number of years.
"He's a really good guy to have back around the club.''
Whether Fazel plays will depend on his early season fitness.
"At the moment, it's coach first and we'll see if we can play him later,'' Malcolm said.
"He may even have a run with our experienced players in the Reserve Grade team.''
In his sixth year as club president, former A-Grade representative player Malcolm said loyal Tiger Mantell was always welcome back after some time off.
"Last year was the first year we had the A-Grade women back in multiple years,'' Malcolm said.
"Phil Jackwitz did a great job putting the team together last year and up and going but due to Brisbane commitments he was unable to commit to two teams this year.''
Mantell offered to guide the side.
"He's ex-captain of the A-Grade side, ex-president, ex-Australian player, ex-Queensland player . . . it's great for us to get him not only coaching the A-Grade but back into hockey itself,'' Malcolm said.
Mantell will have a run in Reserve Grade with his brothers Dan and Adam and their Woodford cousins.
"It's really good getting those experienced blokes back around the club, especially as we've been working so hard over the last six years to bring these juniors through,'' Malcolm said.
In other grades, Malcolm expected the Tigers to field a full complement of boys teams, including two under-11 sides.
He was pleased how a number of under-15 boys players excelled in R2 last year.
"So we'd probably like them to stay in that men's comp,'' he said.
"They have developed. They are all knocking on the door.
"I think half our (under) 15 side made their debut in A Grade last year.
"It will be good to get a few old heads in around them again.''
Malcolm said Easts were also close to fielding an under-15 girls side this season.
Other Easts committee members include vice president Tom Cook, secretary Tracey Doyle and treasurer Rachael Mantell.
Malcolm said the annual Ipswich Hockey Open Day held on Sunday was beneficial for the clubs.
"I just said to one of my colleagues how surprising it is,'' he said. "Hot days, it must feel like 40 out there, with what's going on. You've got so many sports - school, club.
"Just the amount that you do get out here to these open days (is terrific).''
He said with the Olympics every four years, hockey gets a big boost.
"Kids finally see the game played on TV and say 'I want to play that','' he said.
After last year missing out on that hockey exposure with the Tokyo Olympics delayed a year, Malcolm was hopeful Ipswich would receive a surge in 2021.
The dedicated Ipswich official was pleased Easts retained its sponsor support through last year's shortened COVID-impacted season.
"As a club, we didn't drop any sides,'' he said.
"Pre COVID we went in with 12 sides and after COVID we still remained with those 12 sides.
"As a club we probably only lost about five or six players out of the whole comp.''