Mo Mea is hoping Holcombe can pick up where they left off as Phase Two of the Premier Division gets underway on Saturday evening against Old Georgians. Barry Middleton’s side registered nine wins in their 11 Phase One matches, scoring 54 goals and conceding just 12, the best defensive record in the league.
Holcombe will face Old Georgians, Surbiton, Wimbledon, Hampstead & Westminster and newly-promoted Southgate in Phase Two before the top-eight (top six and top two of the lower six) are split into two pools of four, the top-two in each of those pools qualifying for Finals Weekend.
After this season’s Euro Hockey League campaign where Holcombe lost out to hosts Real Club de Polo de Barcelona in the KO8, Mea and Co. are hoping to qualify for a second successive season and will be aiming to start with a statement victory against the champions and current leaders Old Georgians.
“It’s been awesome – playing in the EHL was a real highlight, unfortunately we lost 1-0 to Polo but with nine wins in the league, I think we’ve worked really hard.
“We’ve added a few players to the team with [Alex] Pendle and Brad [Read] and Louis [Duprez] coming back to the club so it’s been awesome to have them.
“Nine wins out of 11, it was a sore loss to Wimbledon on the double-header weekend, that was disappointing but all in all, a good first half of the season and we’re in a strong position going into the second phase.
“Every game against Old Georgians is a challenge – these are the games you want to play, you want to play against the best club in England in the last two seasons, it’ll be a good challenge.
“I think that was one of our priorities to improve on from last season, we didn’t keep many clean sheets so the emphasis was on scoring lots of goals but also not conceding many – I think we’ve achieved that short-term goal in the first half of the season, hopefully it continues.”
Mea said that moving to a back four has given Holcs more security at the back and handing the likes of Phil Roper the ability to attack.
“They know if they lose the ball they’ve got cover behind to clean up, it’s been positive,” he said.
This will be the second full season with the current league structure – of which some remain critical. For players, generally, though, it is enjoyable and allows them to test themselves.
“I think the league structure – for England – is a very good system where you have the top-six, bottom-six and then you add the two into the pool stage for Phase Three.
“I played my first season in England which was everyone playing each other home and away, which also brought an awesome experience and some challenges.
“For England Hockey and growing the sport, I think playing strong teams against the stronger teams more often is the way to go.
“It’ll keep it very competitive at the top because looking at some games in the first half of the season, there were 10-0s, 12-1s, they were big scores which isn’t good for the sport in general.
“Yes and no [when asked if the complex structure might make it hard to attract new fans to hockey].
“As a new person in the sport, I think the last thing you want to see is teams scoring 10, 11, 12 goals in a match – then you’re asking why is there such a great disparity.
“I do understand the concerns about the split but I don’t think it makes the gap bigger between the top and bottom, I think it gives the bottom-six teams an understanding of what they need to do in order to crack into the top-six.
“If you look at someone like Southgate, they’ve come straight into the top-six as a newly-promoted side from Division One which is great for them – it shows that it can be done.
“I think the coverage from England Hockey and media has been awesome this year, there’s greater coverage for hockey in general across all social media platforms.
“What I would like to see going forward is all games being live-streamed – starting with the Premier Division, maybe England Hockey have a dedicated channel – that could be the way forward.
“That would help the sport but looking at the amount of teams that are now live-streaming, it’s been a big improvement on last year.”
Mea captained Holcombe’s indoor team over the winter break as they secured Super 6s Premier Division survival on a nervy second weekend of action at Whitgift School courtesy of a back-and-forth 5-4 win over Surbiton, who were relegated alongside Ashmoor.
“Last weekend survival seems to be a Holcombe trend lately but we want to break out of it.
“We had a few close games, taking Wimbledon away, where they could have gone either way but that’s indoor.
“It’s a good start going into outdoor but for Holcombe, next season, the aim is to get into the top-four.
“We keep finishing in mid-table so it would be good to make a step up and play Finals Day and build indoor at Holcombe.
“It was awesome to captain the team, it was something new for me at the club and it was a great experience.
“I’ll be looking to build on that, I’m learning but it was good to be around the youngsters, trying to give them as much help as possible.”
Two Holcombe players have also received individual accolades this week – Nick Bandurak won the Men’s Player of the Year Award for a third consecutive year at the Hockey Writers’ Club Awards while Lottie Bingham also won the Women’s Youth Award, celebrating under-18 talent in British hockey.
Bandurak is the first player to ever win the award in three consecutive years, while Bingham has also been included in the 2024 England under-21 squad at the age of 18.
“It’s amazing. Individual accolades are always awesome.
“For Nick, I’ve known him for the last six, seven years and I’m really proud of all of his achievements – especially considering six years ago he wasn’t even in the Great Britain or England set-up.
“Three times in a row is incredible.
“Lottie, as a youngster, it’s brilliant for her to win and hopefully that’s a stepping stone for her to achieve great success in her career.”