WHILE memories of a first foray into Europe begin to fade, Penarth Hockey Club is already turning its attention to another season of competition and, with it, the chance to add to the honours secured over the past couple of years.

The club’s second XI have the task of setting the tempo for 2017-18, opening up with the now familiar - and gruelling - cup qualifying tournament in Swansea this weekend before all four sides embark on league competition as September turns into October.

The past two seasons have proven extremely successful for a Penarth organisation on the rise, with the stewardship of chairman Nick Pratt having already overseen Welsh Trophy success and consecutive league titles and promotions for the first XI. The Seconds mirrored the senior side in achieving back-to-back elevations to higher ranks in the GoCrea8 league structure, resulting in them playing in the same De Cymru and The Marches 2 division that the first XI graced just three years ago, and preventing the gulf between the two sides from widening unnecessarily. The third XI also secured promotion last season, while the reformed Fourths will be looking to match that feat in 2017-18 as the club successfully blends veteran guile with young blood eager to enjoy the same spoils they see the seniors attaining.

While the second XI will hope to push for promotion to De Cymru and the Marches 1 this season, immediate attention falls on the cup competition where, thanks to the elevation to combined South Wales and West of England level, they will fulfil the role of underdog as they attempt to make the semi-finals of the Welsh Trophy won by the first XI in 2015-16. Despite being the lowest ranked South Wales team in the tournament, the Bears remain confident of causing an upset as they face Cardiff and Met and Swansea City in their qualifying group, before a potential play-off to make the semi-finals later in the season.

For the third season in a row, the Seconds see a change in their leadership, with Andy Strong taking over the captaincy. While pre-season preparations have seen them succumb to two defeats, a vast improvement between games provides optimism as they find their feet with a new formation, knowing that several key players have yet to rejoin the squad.

Whilst the first conclude their friendly schedule this weekend, their focus will be on chasing a third successive promotion, although life in the Championship division represents the biggest challenge faced by the Penarth club – Europe aside – in decades. Should they achieve their goal, the team would be just one further step from the Men’s National League, but the squad is approaching the season tempering expectation with a touch of realism. Encouraging results against the likes of North Somerset and Cardiff and Met in recent weeks, combined with the knowledge that the returning squad members will be bolstered by new acquisitions, sends the senior side into the competitive season in positive frame of mind.

In seasons past, fielding four - or sometimes even three - sides in early September has often proved challenging so it is testimony to the strides the club has made in recent years that, last Saturday, even with a number of senior players unavailable, a full complement of teams contested games, with the burgeoning strength of the youth section contributing six players under the age of 18 – and four under 15 – to the fourth XI.

Despite the best efforts of last season's Young Player of the Year, goalkeeper Luke Williams, and reigning fourth XI Player of the Year Rhys Meddins – who took the step up in stride - the absence of several recognised central defenders and the greater experience of the opposition saw the Thirds go down to defeat at Bridgend. Returning skipper James Davies will look for improvement in the final friendly, against Gwent this weekend, before the side’s league campaign begins in earnest in October.

The young fourth XI also faced a seasoned Bridgend side in the opening encounter of the new year, but dominated both possession and territory in a performance that belied their average age and lack of senior experience. Veteran Matt Birch cancelled out an early Bridgend strike, before the Penarth youngsters defied tired legs to fight back from a 3-1 second half deficit with goals from Graeme Jones and Lewis Ingram ensuring a promising 3-3 draw.

While there will undoubtedly be tougher games ahead for both sides, with the quality and quantity of players coming through the ranks, the future again looks more than promising at all levels for Penarth Hockey Club.

Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes 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 (d_stevens81@hotmail.co.uk) for further information.