Blockbuster day of hockey action in Shepparton

By Tyler Maher

Hockey fans in the Goulburn Valley will be treated to a blockbuster day of action at McEwen Reserve tomorrow.

Hockey Victoria Premier League clubs Essendon and Altona will bring their men’s and women’s top tier and reserves teams — a total of about 200 players, coaches and officials — to town to showcase the highest level of regular season hockey in the state.

Junior skills clinics will also take place tomorrow with the premier league players passing on some of their knowledge to the next wave of rising stars.

For those not able to attend tomorrow’s festivities, a live stream of the matches will also be in place on Hockey Victoria’s website to showcase Shepparton’s top-line facilities to all who wish to see them ahead of next month’s Australian Country Championships.

‘‘It’s been a long time coming,’’ Goulburn Valley Hockey Association president Cameron Druitt said.

‘‘It’s been in the works for about eight months now and it’s going to be a good lead-in to the country championships in August.

‘‘The thought was that we’d target the clubs with strong connections to the Goulburn Valley, historically Altona’s got a strong connection to GV clubs and currently at Essendon we’ve got three GV players in the first team, Connor Holland, Liam Schreck and Lewis Citroen.

‘‘We hope everyone comes down in the hockey community to support the day.’’

Shepparton Youth Club coach Matt Higgins is looking forward to seeing Altona play tomorrow, having racked up more than 300 games for the outfit.

‘‘I spent 17 years at Altona, I was lucky enough to play in their premier league team for the whole 17 years,’’ Higgins said.

‘‘They’re a great family club and in that 17 years they had a great relationship with the Goulburn Valley Hockey Association.

‘‘I think about 30 players from here ended up going through all different grades at Altona, so they’ve had a really strong connection with the Goulburn Valley.

‘‘Essendon have also had a really great connection, so it’s great that both of those clubs are coming here to play a premier league game.

‘‘To see how fast they move the ball, how quick the game is these days, you think you’ve played pretty quick hockey up here, but to see the premier league guys run around it is quite amazing.

‘‘To see young Connor Holland, everyone has seen him play up here, but to see him play premier league and how fast and how comfortable he’ll probably make the game look will be quite special for a lot of the young kids up here.’’

Tomorrow’s event could also spur on a resurgence of these regional matches — not only in Shepparton but across the state — the sport’s governing body says.

‘‘We are thrilled to be taking Premier League matches to regional Victoria again,’’ Hockey Victoria chief operating officer Sash Herceg said.

‘‘While Shepparton is the only regional city that will host Premier League matches in 2019, we are already working with other regional cities, as well as our clubs on expanding the regional Premier League fixture across Victoria.’’

As for the incoming clubs themselves, both are happy to be making the trip to the home of some of their stars.

‘‘Essendon Hockey is excited to be part of this initiative to bring Premier League hockey to regional Victoria,’’ Essendon Hockey chairwoman Karen Fogarty said.

‘‘There are plenty of us at Essendon who are originally from country Victoria and we are proud to be involved in a regional event.

‘‘We value the kilometres that past and current Essendon players from the Goulburn Valley put in to play each week and are happy to take our turn in heading up the highway.’’

Altona also has strong ties to the area.

‘‘We are grateful for the opportunity to showcase our sport and give something back to the region,’’ Altona president Steve Ritchie said.

‘‘Altona has always had strong ties to Goulburn Valley hockey. I grew up in Shepparton and some of our most decorated players, Matthew Higgins and Matthew Guest were born and bred in the region.’’

The junior skills clinics begin at 11.30am tomorrow with the men’s premier league game on pitch one at 12.45pm and the women’s clash following at 2.30pm.