From Outdoor to Indoor – A Leap in the Dark!

As winter approaches, hockey in Scotland turns its attention from the outdoor Premiership to the indoor version of the game – but will it be indoor hockey as we used to know it?

Firstly, the game was last played in February 2020, which is almost two years ago, so a lot may have changed in the make-up and commitment of our top sides.

Secondly, Scottish Hockey has included a contingency plan for this season`s competition, to try and offset the impact of further COVID restrictions and, also, bad weather.

In its full package, the competition will be roughly the same as last time; an initial league in December with teams playing each other once, then the two-pool format, and lastly the Gala Finals weekend. That is, if everything goes to plan.

However, the contingency if COVID and/or weather intervenes, whereby the full package cannot be achieved, the initial league competition will stand as the final placings with the top team declared indoor champions and taking the European spot.

Thirdly, will the demise of Dundee`s outdoor sides be transmitted to the indoor game? Given the Dundee hegemony in the indoor game in Scotland since the early 1990s, that could mean a dramatic change in the balance of power.

2nd February 2019 at Bells Sports Centre, Perth. Scottish Hockey Indoor Gala Finals. Women's Grand Final - Dundee Wanderers v Clydesdale Western - photo by Duncan Gray
2nd February 2019 at Bells Sports Centre, Perth. Scottish Hockey Indoor Gala Finals.
Women’s Grand Final – Dundee Wanderers v Clydesdale Western – photo by Duncan Gray

So, I caught up with Stuart Neave, coach to six times men`s champions Inverleith, to get a feel for things.

Changes in squads since February 2020 may be a feature of several sides, but apparently not so at Inverleith. “We are all looking forward to the new season with a fairly similar squad of players.

“I think the new season will be interesting, especially when you consider that we have not had any indoor hockey since February 2020.”

In past seasons, the initial league part of the competition was used by clubs to find their sea legs, since final placings were not considered crucial. However, since it could be the last hurrah if the worst happens, then clubs may take a more determined approach.

Neave gave his view on the matter: “The first half of the season may have more significance this year, however our approach will be the same, whoever we are playing.”

Inverleith begin the defence of their title against former champions Grove Menzieshill and newly promoted Watsonians, on Saturday. In recent seasons the clash between Inverleith and Grove Menzieshill often determined the destiny of the title – but will that still be the situation?

Neave shared his thoughts on this. “I think it would be unwise to underestimate the challenge of Grove Menzieshill indoors, an exciting opening game for ourselves. On paper, with the players they have available, the likes of Western and Grange should be challenging. The indoor league has the potential to be a close affair this season, but only time will tell.”

The unexpected outdoor performance of both Grove Menzieshill and Dundee Wanderers, due substantially to the loss of key players, could transfer to the indoor competition and create a Tayside vacuum.

So, what of Western and Grange? I understand from both clubs that many of their successful outdoor squads will play in the indoor league, although they might not be available every weekend. Both sides have reached the latter stages in recent years, Western won the title in 2019, so Neave`s prediction could be very valid.

We`ll soon know as Western and Grange clash on the opening day; the former go on to face Kelburne and Dundee Wanderers in a three-game stint, while the latter open proceedings also against Wanderers.

At this stage it is impossible to tell how the other sides – Uddingston, Kelburne, Watsonians and Wanderers – will fare in this season`s competition.

In the women`s league, Clydesdale Western are perhaps the team to beat, if only because they are the current champions, having beaten Dundee Wanderers 3-2 in the last final to be held. Also, the Titwood-based side have a wealth of talent, many with considerable international experience, if they choose to tread the indoor boards this month.

Ironically, Clydesdale open their campaign on Sunday against Wanderers – but will it be the same close contest as February 2020, given the Tayside decline? Inverleith are the champions’ next opponents later in the day.

Watsonians are Clydesdale`s nearest challengers outdoors…perhaps they may also do so indoors.

Coach Keith Smith said: “I`m coaching the team indoors and it`s the same squad indoor as outdoor, which is good news in terms of consistency and means we have strength in depth.”

And he has set out his stall. “We`ve made the euro play-offs for the past couple of seasons but lost out in the semi-final each time, so the aim this year is to try and improve on that.” So, the pressure on Clydesdale may come from Edinburgh rather than Dundee!

Keith Smith`s charges open Sunday against Edinburgh University and then have Wildcats as their second opponents of the day…so six points will be on Smith`s agenda, I presume.

At this stage it is difficult to see where else the title challenge might come from – perhaps the top six Premiership sides; Wildcats, Edinburgh University or Hillhead, the Tayside pair of Wanderers or Grove Menzieshill, or indeed, Inverleith. Only time will tell!

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