With the year just beginning, many would think that sporting associations/ federations would be unsure of what lies ahead for the upcoming months. However, the same assumption cannot be applied to the Guyana Hockey Board (GHB) as the Board has already set its sights on what it would like to accomplish in 2019.
In reflecting on 2018, GHB President Phillip Fernandes noted that the fraternity was able to make great strides towards its goal of ultimately improving hockey from the junior level. Bearing in mind that its focus was set on players ranging from ages 12 to 19, the Board was able to host t its usual Smalta/iCool Under-14 schools competition and then got into the Solo Under-19 tournament soon after. According to Fernandes, these competitions have created great interest in clubs. which have responded by strengthening their junior programmes.
“As a result of this focus, we currently have more players in this age range than we ever had in the past and are, therefore, in good position to field stronger teams for junior international competition in the years to come,” the GHB President stated.
On the senior level, much emphasis in the early part of 2018 was placed on Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games preparations, an international tournament that bore bittersweet results for the hockey fraternity.
For the first time in Guyana’s history, both male and female Guyanese teams were able to qualify for the Games. In Barranquilla, Colombia, the women did not have a strong showing, finishing seventh of eight teams. On the other hand, the men had better luck, barely missing the podium positions as they finished fourth out of eight teams. With those finishes, Guyana failed to qualify for the Pan American Games in 2019, but according to the GHB head, the fraternity would now regroup and focus on the junior national teams and the qualification tournaments for the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) Cup, which is a World Cup qualifier.
Assessing both the senior and junior levels as compared to the previous year, Fernandes had many positives to take away.
“I think the quality of our junior hockey has been improving and this has had a positive impact on the senior leagues also. The senior players face additional pressure of the better juniors who are now vying for spots on the senior teams. This makes for better club training programmes and heightened enthusiasm and desire to improve among our players,” he noted.
On the flip side, he stated, “Our first local division competitions were adversely affected by the preparation of our men and women for the CAC Games in July, but the Bounty Paper Towels developmental league saw the emergence of new talent. This resulted in a stronger Second-Division league than the previous year.”
Overall, the GHB Head sees juniors’ development as the “brightest spark” for
hockey, owing to the number of junior players increasing significantly to a point where there are now a few hundred in the sport.
“Apart from sheer numbers, our local clubs tested their junior sides overseas by competing in the Paragon Indoor Hockey Championships in Trinidad. Both the St Joseph High School boys and the GCC Bingo Spartans girls of Guyana won their respective Under-16 divisions. These were big achievements for Guyana, as Trinidad is the regional leaders in indoor hockey and, therefore, provide the toughest competition close by,” Fernandes stated.
Aside from junior development, the success of Guyana’s local teams in sweeping the recently-concluded Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Festival was the most rewarding aspects of the year.
“It showed that the quality of hockey in Guyana is improving. We are hopeful that these efforts will begin to produce even better international results in the coming four-year cycle.”
With 2019 in focus, the GHB is said to have ambitious programmes set out. Listing a number of the programmes that the Board has planned, Fernandes disclosed that the local league schedule is filled, beginning with the Bounty/Antonio’s Grill One Day competition in January. This will feature players of all levels from 14 years and over. The Smalta/iCool Under-14 schools competition will begin shortly
after along with the men and women First-Division leagues, while the Under-20 and Second-Division competitions will follow those before the programme shifts to indoor hockey for the latter part of the year.
On the international calendar, they have already begun junior preparations by sending an Under-21 boys’ selection to Trinidad to compete in dual indoor hockey competitions. The Supernova team ended in fourth position in their first completed tournament.
Meanwhile, the senior men and women indoor hockey selections will then visit Toronto, Canada in March for what is sure to be an action-packed tournament.
As the year winds down, the senior men’s and women’s teams are hoping to compete in the PAHF Challenge, but the host country and dates are yet to be set. As such, budgetary constraints could be the biggest hurdle.
The junior teams, in the meantime, may need to compete in a qualifier for the 2020 Junior Pan American Championships if more than 12 nations apply to participate.
“This could mean a heavy financial obligation for the Federation, but it would be a shame if, given the recent junior success, our junior teams lost the opportunity to compete in 2020 for lack of funds,” Fernandes explained.
On the topic of function and support from Government and the Private Sector, Fernandes stated, “We would always like for more funds to be allocated for teams representing Guyana to participate internationally in all sport disciplines. Our young people work hard and put in a tremendous effort and a lot of time preparing for competition and the distraction of having to raise their own funds and the uncertainty of whether the target will be met are factors that the athletes of many other nations do not have.”
However, the GHB President is aware that these entities are often approached for sponsorship by various disciplines; as such, he explained that the onus was sometimes upon the fraternity to invent creative ways to achieve their goals.
“I feel that there are several companies trying to play their part in supporting our young athletes, but this alone is insufficient for success, as success requires frequent competition. We constantly examine our programmes and try to find creative ways to add value to sponsors of our competitions and teams,” he said.
With the schedule filled and players ready to compete at all levels, it is hard to fathom what new heights hockey in Guyana will rise to in 2019.