Manx Hockey Association’s annual challenge matches took place at the National Sports Centre recently.
Once again, some very competitive and high-level hockey was played in a very sporting atmosphere.
The challenge matches are always a great way for the local hockey community to welcome back former players, many of whom now play top-level hockey in the UK.
One such player was current England under-18 international Sienna Dunn - now at school in the UK - who joined with her former u18 team-mates in the fixture against the u21 girls.
The latter side fielded all former u18 Isle of Man players including two previous captains in Sophie Howland and Leah Goddard who, along with others, currently play hockey with their universities.
The match was a very tight affair, with the lead changing hands on numerous occasions. Under-18 academy players Lucie Sutterby and Claire Mason along with Isabella Craig linked up strongly with Dunn and attacked the u21 defence which was marshalled expertly by Mia Hall and Marie Lothian.
These attacks opened up many chances for the younger outfit, but Bobbie Hempsall and Dulce Teare were constant threats at the other end of the pitch in the D.
Under-18 goals came from Dunn, Mason and two from Amelia Lee, with the u21 goals coming from Goddard, Howland, Morven Smith and Eden McCubbon, resulting in a 4-4 final score.
l The corresponding boys fixture was played next. The u21 team comprised mainly of players from the very successful u18 team from the 2020 season and, with a number of these players now experiencing hockey in the UK, the pace of the attacks put the u18 boys under pressure from the start.
In his first match back from injury, Oscar Lace linked up with fellow academy player Joe Savage in the middle and they were key players in driving the u18 unit forward.
Assisted by Dom Hubble in the forward line, the u18 boys stepped up and had numerous attacks and opportunities in the u21 D, only to be thwarted by the excellent goalkeeping of Harry Woods.
The Caley twins along with Elliot Reid were constant thorns in the u18 side and provided many opportunities to their u21 team-mates to find the back of the net.
A final score of 5-2 saw the u21 side take victory, but the u18 boys played very well and can take a lot from this fixture into their next EH Championship fixture against top side Alderley Edge.
Goalscorers for the U21 side were Scott Mason with two, Nathan Evans and Alex Freer, while the u18 goals came from Matt Caley and Hubble.
l The much-anticipated Exiles match was the final game of the day in which the Exiles faced an Isle of Man mixed selection led by the current island men’ and women’s captains Jamie Brown and Kim Carney.
Almost all players in the select side were current members of the senior island teams which meant tough opposition for the Exiles.
Not to be outdone, the Exiles fielded a number of players who play in top leagues with their respective UK clubs: George Harrison, Alex Bell, Megan Roberts in the England National League and Ciara Goddard in Scotland’s Premier.
As expected, this led to a highly-contested fixture with some excellent hockey being played in front of a partisan crowd.
Excellent goalkeeping from Juan Bellando in the Isle of Man goal and Ava Treutler in the Exiles goal frustrated both teams as they each tried to take the lead.
The Exiles squandered a number of chances, allowing the Isle of Man side to take the lead through Jonny Callow. But Leeds player Megan Roberts worked hard with Breesha Foxton and Jess Loader replied for the Exiles, only for Neil Crowe to put away a penalty stroke just before half-time to put the island side heading into the break in the lead.
The second half saw an increased tempo and GK Bellando pulled off some more spectacular saves.
The Isle of Man side enjoyed a sustained period of pressure and Carney put away the first of her two goals. Roberts again replied for the Exiles, expertly slotting home the ball after a fine solo run from Bell.
Will Greenbank for the Exiles continued to soak up the pressure in defence with a number of crucial tackles but, when Carney was left unmarked in the D for a moment, she made no mistake by latching onto a cross and firing home to seal a 4-2 win for the Isle of Man side.
A great day of entertaining hockey was the verdict from players and spectators alike. The players and coaches extended their thanks to the umpires on the day and a word of note to young Lucy Cartwright who umpired in a very mature manner.
l The island teams at all levels are back in action this month for the England Hockey knockout competitions.
The senior sides are still looking for a new sponsor at present and any help would be much appreciated. Please contact [email protected] for further details.