The Junior World Cup pits the best 16 nations in the world at U-21 level against each other in four pools of top-class International Hockey. Having qualified through their continental competitions in the years prior, the Junior World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport for junior players around the world.
When it comes to International age-group hockey, it takes a special player to appear in more than one cycle of a programme. The inevitable ageing of players and constant pushing for selection makes the process of repeating the feat in the following season a difficult one.
Let alone for three consecutive years.
In spite of this, England’s James Albery finds himself preparing to embark on his second Junior World Cup campaign, after his debut tournament in Delhi, India, in December 2013.
“I’m very proud to be selected for my second Junior World Cup”
“Personally it has a very different feel (to Delhi, 2013). At the last JWC I was obviously younger and less experienced compared to now. I’m very proud to be selected for my second Junior World Cup; as you say it is the pinnacle of Junior International Hockey and I’m excited to see how well as a team we can do.”
The mercurial defender has been an ever-present in England’s junior age groups since his first appearance at U16 level. His performances on the International stage have been rewarded with his continued progression through the age groups, culminating in the most recent Senior Great Britain trials ahead of the next four-year cycle.
“It’s been a really good experience for me. Unfortunately I was injured for most of it, but I learnt a lot about how professional the set up is. I think that professional mind set is one that we at the U21’s age group are trying to emulate.”
That injury has plagued his preparations for the tournament as well as his involvement in domestic duties for Nottingham-based Beeston HC. With the careful management and rehab processes accounted for however, it looks as though Albery has the green-light for Game 1 on December 8th.
“I’ve managed to play in both practice games out here so far and it seems to be doing well so I should be on schedule for the first game.”
Being drawn alongside South Africa, Canada and hosts India, England face a difficult task against 3 vastly differing styles of hockey. With only 2 teams securing a place in the quarter-finals, it will be a tough start to the tournament.
“It is a tricky group. No game at the Junior World Cup will be easy but I’m confident that if we execute our game plans we’ll be able to get the results that we want in those games. Obviously our overall objective is to win the tournament and certainly medal. Personally, I just want to perform as well as possible for the team.”
Following his recent move to Beeston HC in England’s National Premier League, Albery has already made his mark on the domestic game as one of the most talented defenders in the country; a factor he attributes to his coach when he was growing up and his subsequent move to the perennial title-challengers.
“My Coach Nick Thomson is definitely who I would attribute my success in the sport to; he taught me so much. I don’t think I would be anywhere near the level that I have reached now without his guidance. Moving to a club such as Beeston has also been huge for me. Playing Premier League Hockey each week and training with the quality of players at Beeston has really helped my development. I’ve also been very lucky to be exposed to two quality coaches in Matt Taylor and Stephen Wood who have really helped to progress my game.”
On the plane to India with Albery were fellow Beeston Juniors James Gall, Chris Proctor, Tom Sorsby and Robbie Gleeson, with James and Chris also representing England at their second Junior World Cup. With such a strong representation from one club, Albery is keen to make their experience of playing together pay in Lucknow but is aware of the challenge that stepping into an International match poses.
“It’s great to be able to play with the lads that you regularly play with as I feel we have a great understanding of each other at Beeston. We’re aware that the International scene however is very different to the Premier League as you come up against different styles of play to that which you face in the domestic game.”
It’s the experience of dealing with these different styles of play and on the biggest stage available in world hockey at junior level that will ultimately prove invaluable over the next two weeks in Lucknow, India.
“The opportunity for us to compete against the best players in the world at junior level is an exciting prospect.”
With Beeston providing 3 players with previous tournament experience, England are rightfully confident of making their way into the quarter final stages unscathed. A thought that undoubtedly excites one of England’s most experienced representatives.
“I’m most looking forward to the challenge we’re faced with; the opportunity for us to compete against the best players in the world at junior level is an exciting prospect.”
The U-21 men begin their campaign, as they did 3 years ago, against South Africa as the tournament gets underway in less than 24 hours. With their female counterparts finishing in 7th place at the recent Junior World Cup in Santiago, Chile, the men will be looking to experience on more than one occasion over the next fortnight to help to improve on that finishing.
And that brings James Albery to the fore.
England face South Africa in their opening game of the tournament on December 8th at 3.30pm local time.
Click here to follow the Junior World Cup and keep up to date with all the news and results.
Image Credit: FIH, Beeston HC, David Kissman