Men’s Premier Division Preview – September 16
Luke Hawker’s Cardiff and Met are Ready to Carry the Flag for Wales into Premier League Battle.
Luke Hawker believes the whole of Welsh hockey can harvest the benefits of Cardiff and Met reaching the top of the tree.
The Wales centurion may have travelled the world with the national team, but he will break new ground at club level this weekend.
Hawker and his teammates will become the first Welsh side to play in the English men’s Premier Division whey they host Southgate at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens on Saturday evening (6.00pm).
But the 33-year-old is less interested in history than he is in the future, in particular the value to the sport across Wales in having a team playing at the very highest level.
“This is something that the club has been building towards since I first joined back in 2009,” says Hawker.
“Had we gone up into the Premier League five or six years ago, the club probably wasn’t ready for it, but we are in a much stronger position now.
“By getting to the Premier League, we are demonstrating that if we get our clubs right, then we are capable of having clubs who can compete with the strongest across England and Wales.”
Cardiff and Met’s elevation sends a powerful message to players with international aspirations, too, believes Hawker – namely, that it is possible to sustain an elite level club and international career without having to cross the border.
“If you look back to a couple of years ago, there were six or eight Cardiff boys who were in the Wales squad and I’d say there are about 80 per cent of the current senior men’s squad who have been through the Cardiff club at some stage.
“By having a Premier Division team, it means players don’t have to end up feeling they need to go to London – or even to Europe – to have that top club level experience. It proves they can stay in Wales and have the highest level of hockey that’s available in the UK.
“There are also opportunities, spin-offs to expand the sport. We want to showcase the sport and say if you want top class sport in Cardiff you don’t have to spend 80 quid to watch a Wales international rugby match, you can spend a fiver watching top level hockey and have a good experience.”
Cardiff and Met stormed to the Men’s Division 1 North title last season, losing just two of 18 matches.
Southgate were just as dominant in Division 1 South, winning 15, drawing one and – like Cardiff and Met – losing just twice as they also went up.
But whilst Cardiff will rely on the bulk of their squad from last season - including Hawker’s Wales teammates, Owain Dolan-Gray and Jack Pritchard – Southgate have been splashing the cash on recruitment.
“They have spent a bit of money, they have been over to Holland in their pre-season, and they are putting together a fairly new squad, whereas we are basically the same squad that have been together for six or seven years,” adds Hawker.
“So, it’s going to be a juicy start to the Premier League for us.”
As for Cardiff and Met’s targets in their first season, then so long as they are still there this time next year, most supporters and players will be happy.
“Finishing mid-table – sixth to eighth – would be a pretty successful season for us,” says Hawker.
“So long as we avoid the four-way play-offs they have down at the bottom of the table, we’ll be happy.”
Elsewhere on the opening weekend, Wimbledon face Beeston, East Grinstead host Oxted, Holcombe meet Reading, Surbiton are up against Hampstead and Westminster, and University of Nottingham entertain Old Georgians.
Men's Premier Division
Wimbledon M1 v Beeston M1 (16:30)
Raynes Park High School
Cardiff & Met v Southgate M1 (18:00)
Welsh Institute of Sport
East Grinstead M1 v Oxted M1(18:00)
East Grinstead Sports Club
Holcombe M1 v Reading (18:00)
Holcombe HC - Pitch 1
Surbiton M1 v Hampstead & Westminster M1 (18:00)
Surbiton HC - Pitch 1