The 2018 campaign began against a youthful but inexperienced Swansea Bay side in the first of the pool matches. After a cagey start, player-coach Ben Croxall set the tempo for the rest of the game by netting just after ten minutes, and the Bears doubled their advantage just before the break as their fast pace proved difficult for the seaside city’s squad. The tactic frustrated Swansea’s goalkeeper so much that he was sent to the sin-bin but, from the resulting penalty corner, Croxall saw a rocket drag flick somehow saved on the line, setting up a tense finale as Penarth captain Marcus Powell was also sent to the bin and Swansea converted one of the few chances they were afforded to leave the final score 2-1 to Penarth.
Gwent were the Bears’ next opposition, with the Vale side knowing that a win would see them straight through to the next pool. A great start saw Penarth open the scoring from a well-worked corner routine with just a minute on the clock and, four minutes later, indoor newcomer Tom Haran bagged his first goal of the day following a pinpoint ball from Croxall found him unmarked in the circle. Gwent managed to pull one back on the stroke of half-time and levelled the scores while Penarth were down to five men shortly after the break, but the bears upped their game and Joe Thomas’ silky skills found a trailing foot in the circle with a minute left on the clock, setting up a ‘must score’ penalty corner. With the arena silent, up stepped Croxall to produce a ferocious drag flick high to the ‘keeper’s right to claim the victory.
Moving on to the finals, Swansea University were next to face the wrath of the Bears, the Vale side having poked by their outdoor side the day before. Despite falling behind to an early goal, Penarth’s experience soon shone through, and their fast and fiesty pace saw numerous circle penetrations, leading to goals for Croxall (3), Haran and Kyle Stubley before half-time. The astonished University side did manage to net two goals in return, but further strikes from Ross Biggar, Pete Gibbins and Matt Ashton eventually gave Penarth a convincing 8-3 win to confirm their place in the final match of the day.
Once again, as in 2017, the Bears would face an experienced Cardiff & Met as the last obstacle in the way of a title and the chance of representing Wales in Europe but, from the outset, the holders showed why they have won this competition for the past few years, with a couple of quick-fire goals putting them into an early 2-0 lead. Croxall again proved to be the driving force for the Bears, and fired home an unstoppable set-piece drag flick, but Penarth still turned around 3-1 down at half-time and, with decisions going against them, appeared to be on the back foot as an organised Cardiff side capitalised on reduced numbers. The Vale side battled on and secured a second goal after good work from Powell and Aaron Fulton-Brown, but second place was to be their lot once more as Cardiff ran out worthy winners.
Three Penarth sides will be in outdoor GoCrea8 League action this weekend, with the 3rd XI getting a well-earned rest on their scheduled bye week. There will still be four games for those looking to spectate, however, with the 1st XI looking to bounce back from their shock defeat with back-to-back victories, away to Clifton Robinsons – who were first to end the Bears’ dominance at Fortress Stanwell in October – on Saturday before entertaining Isca at home the following afternoon (1.30pm start). The 2nd XI host high-flying Cardiff Medics on Saturday (1.45pm start), hoping for at least a repeat of the battling draw they earned in the reverse fixture, while the Fourths make the trip to Cwmbran Stadium to take on a Gwent side just above them in De Cymru 3.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
Updated 12:42 - 13 Mar 2018 by Richard Bromiley