Scotland: Indoor starts in Dundee this weekend

And so to the indoor season…with a full card of ten matches for the men`s Division 1 on Saturday and the same for the women’s competition on Sunday.

The weather recently had a negative impact on the outdoor competition and the elements have also taken their toll of the indoor even before it has started – Bell`s Sports Centre in Perth was flooded in the early October rains and is consequently out of commission. So this weekend`s games will take place at DISC in Dundee.

And it starts off with a bang – the second men`s game on court is the clash between Grove Menzieshill and Inverleith, both likely title aspirants. What a way to start the season.

The two sides shared the title over the last decade or so but two years ago Western Wildcats took over, and no doubt they want it back.

The Edinburgh side came close in last season`s final but eventually going down 9-6 to Western.

Long-term coach Stuart Neave is still directing operations at Inverleith and gave us his chat for the season ahead. “We are looking forward to the new season, having played well for most of last season. There is the possibility for everything to be very close this year, given the format and the players that teams potentially have available.

“We will be focused on continuing to improve our performances with the aim of being there again on the final day of the season.”

Stuart entered an important caveat in that several teams, especially those with strong outdoor squads, have potentially a lot of talented players to call on, but how many will be available for indoor commitments on a regular basis – that could be a telling feature.

For years in the past the indoor title was a Tayside monopoly, mostly Grove Menzieshill but Dundee Wanderers also pitched in with a few successes, but these halcyon days are no more. Will they return?

Gavin Byers is player/coach for the `Hill along with assistant Chris Bonnar, and he laid out his stall.

“We always start off the season with the goal of winning the league. The new format taking place over four weekends will be tough and there is no margin for error.

“We are going in with a good mixture of experience and youth and will look to do our best and challenge for the top two spots that will put us into the Gala Day Final. Alfie Bonnar and Ollie Hall will push through from last season`s second team and we have got Michael Ross back for the indoor season. It will be good for Ross McPherson, Ollie James and I to connect up with him again.”

Both sides could steal a march on Western with three games on Saturday, Inverleith have a further tricky tussle with Dundee Wanderers and then Clydesdale while Watsonians and Dunfermline Carnegie as the other opposition for the `Hill.

So what of Western – the champions. They come late in the afternoon to Dundee and take on Watsonians and Grange. On last season`s form you would expect the champions to start their defence with six points. But that was almost a year ago!

The problem for other sides is that the Wildcats are prolific predators. Last year`s final saw them pile in nine goals against Inverleith with Andrew McConnell, Rob Harwood and Fraser Moran getting the majority, and they have others who can find the net.

As always Dundee Wanderers could be a force in the land – if they are not in the running to win the championship they could influence the outcome with some match-winning performances as they always do.

Grange are outdoor Premiership leaders with a perfect record but a lot will depend here on how many of their players turn out indoors – in the past small squads have been their undoing. The potential of other sides Dunfermline Carnegie, Clydesdale and Watsonians is at this moment difficult to determine.

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Last season Watsonians won the women`s indoor crown with a narrow 5-4 win over Clydesdale Western and will consequently make their European debut in the EuroHockey Club Cup in Turkey in February.

But the triumph was a close affair, in fact Watsonians only went ahead for the first time with 30 seconds to go with a strike from Katie Stott.

So what about this season? Watsonians coach Keith Smith revealed: “We relied on a small core of players last season indoor, with others coming in and out for a weekend here or there, but we should have a bigger pool of players this year.

“We`ve also got the indoor Euros to prepare for in February, but with the outdoor Euros only a month later, we don`t have a lot of time in between, so the indoor season is even more important for us this year as it also serves as a big chunk of our preparation for when we start back outdoor too.”

Although Smith`s charges have several irons in the fire in the coming months, Watsonians might be seen as favourites to retain their indoor crown. They start their campaign on Sunday with two games against Edinburgh University and then Wildcats.

So what of the challengers? Last year`s finalists Clydesdale must rank as one of them, they have shown resilience in the outdoor Premiership and have several internationalists in their ranks. It will be interesting to see how they line up on Sunday against Edinburgh Hockey Club, Hillhead and finally Inverleith. Even if there are changes from last season, it would be a great start if they can put nine points in the bag.

Then there is Wildcats who are doing well outdoors and finished in third place in last season`s indoors. Despite losing the semi-final 6-1 to Watsonians, they beat Dundee Wanderers 2-1 for third, Lucy Findlay and Becky Bruce were their scorers and the ever-reliable Amy Snelle replied for the Taysiders. Wildcats are late on the boards on Sunday with fixtures against Watsonians and then Hillhead.

Whether Wanderers will there or thereabouts this season remains to be seen as they are now in the second tier outdoors. The Taysiders are on early doors against Edinburgh Hockey Club and Inverleith – that should give us an early indication of their threat.

And there is also Edinburgh University who have put in good performances indoor over the last few seasons – can they do so again? As well as Watsonians the students face Inverleith.

It will be interesting to see if any of the other sides – Inverleith, Edinburgh Hockey Club or Hillhead – can make their mark this season. Sunday should provide the evidence.

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by Scotland Hockey

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