PENARTH Hockey Club’s youth section completed their season on another sunny day in Swansea, where they again defied their relative inexperience to get amongst the medals in the Welsh Finals.
Having qualified as South Wales champions, the U11 section travelled west in high spirits. Two weeks earlier, the Bear Cubs had produced a dazzling display of hockey to dispatch old foes Whitchurch 3-1 in a winner-take-all clash for the South Wales silverware, and the encounter would again have a major bearing on the outcome of the tournament although it was to prove a bitter irony that the Cardiff side were Penarth’s first opponents.
Despite missing captain Harry Davies, Penarth were still able to field an excellent team, but it quickly became clear that Whitchurch had worked incredibly hard in training, and this combined with an unusually lethargic start from Penarth, meant that from the first whistle the Seasiders were on the back foot. With Whitchurch unleashing a high press that forced Penarth deep into their own half, the Bear Cubs struggled to clear the ball from their hit outs and, when they did, they were greeted by a sea of blue Whitchurch shirts that immediately created further pressure.
Some fantastic saves from goalkeeper Joe Casey temporarily stemmed the flow of the more dominant side but, by half-time, the score was already 4-0 in Whitchurch’s favour and, although Penarth slowly started to impose their own attacking game in the second period, the damage had been done and Whitchurch ran out deserved 6–0 winners.
Somewhat shell-shocked, the Bear Cubs moved on to face North Walian opposition Dysynni Hockey in their second game, and the youngsters showed incredible character to put the previous heavy defeat behind them. The defensive trio of Toby Collins, Tom Hatherall and Louis Carver (as well as a friendly goalpost) comfortably kept Dysynni at bay, allowing Penarth to start piecing together the free-flowing passing and attacking hockey that has gained them so much praise throughout the season, eventually winning 2-0.
The final game, against Colwyn Bay, was an unofficial Welsh final between the newly-crowned North and South Wales champions but, from the first push back, it was evident that Penarth were once again back to playing their best hockey. Elliot Van Steen, Owain Mottram and Angus McInnes controlled the ball in midfield, playing a brand of direct hockey that Colwyn Bay were simply unable to cope with. Tommy Bryant set up wave after wave of attack and, by half-time, the South Wales side were leading by two clear goals.
William Bailey and Luke Tricklebank continued to lead the attacking line in the second period, eventually helping Penarth to secure a comfortable 3–0 victory that ensured they would claim Welsh runners-up honours in their first year of competitive hockey - an incredible achievement, especially considering the well-established junior squads that the Bear Cubs faced throughout a season in which their successes have only been matched by the fantastic spirit they have played the game in.
Penarth's U13 side had qualified for the national competition by finishing as runners-up in South Wales and would repeat that position after losing one of their key players in the opening match of the Welsh Finals.
Just as the U11s had earlier in the day, Penarth opened their title bid against South Wales opposition, taking on regional champions Swansea City in the opening game. The loss of the influential Lewis Ingram to serious injury proved to be a turning point, however, and the Vale side were unable to match their rivals over the remainder of the match, conceding vital points and leaving themselves with an uphill task for the rest of the day.
True to the Cubs' fighting spirit, however, the rest of the squad rose to the challenge, picking themselves up ahead of game two against North Wales visitors Northop Hall and collecting their first win of the competition in resilient fashion.
That success gave the squad a much-needed lift ahead of their final encounter, like the U11s, against Colwyn Bay. Knowing that another win would be enough to confirm the runners-up position behind Swansea, the Penarth boys dug deep to produce one final effort, eventually coming out on top of their North Wales rivals to ensure that they matched their younger counterparts and completed a hugely successful campaign for the junior section.
With plans to initiate an U9 side ahead of next season, and older squads - such as the Stanwell U18 side that recently proved more than a match for Penarth's veterans - also showing the potential within the club, the future looks extremely bright at all levels.
Although the youth section can now rest until the start of the 2017-18 season, hockey continues apace for Penarth's seniors, with the latest warm-up game ahead of the EuroHockey Club Challenge taking place at the weekend. The fund-raising effort for the tournament in the Ukraine also continues through the coming weeks but, prior to that, the club will celebrate another successful season - with three promotions and a cup final appearance to add to the junior achievements - at its annual awards dinner at Penarth Athletic Club this weekend.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. When the regular season resumes, training will take place on Wednesdays at Stanwell School, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7.00pm and 8.15pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.