Young Magpies bidding for spot in National Finals

HERE COME THE GIRLS: Harleston Magpies U-18 Girls face Reading. Picture: Sibson Photography
HERE COME THE GIRLS: Harleston Magpies U-18 Girls face Reading. Picture: Sibson Photography

It promises to be a blockbuster weekend for Harleston Magpies, who have semi-final representatives in both the Girls’ and Boys’ sections of the Under-18 England Hockey National Tier 1 Championships.

Magpies are the only side nationally to have both genders battling it out in the last four, while for the club it is a scenario that has not been played out for more than a decade.

SEMI-FINALISTS: The boys are off to Marlow

SEMI-FINALISTS: The boys are off to Marlow

Club chairman Richard Stacey said: “I am immensely proud of the superb quality of play that both our Under-18s squads have demonstrated in this national competition so far.

“We are a very ambitious club, but to have both the girls and boys Under-18s squads in the national semi-finals is a real thrill.

It is a credit to our whole youth coaching structure, and to the coaches, managers, parents and helpers that our teams have got this far.

“Most of these young players have been with us since the tender age of seven, and their personal hard work and commitment has really paid off.”

For the Girls, they will play host to last year’s beaten finalists, Reading, at home on Sunday (2.30pm).

They have been in clinical mood throughout the competition, scoring four or more goals in each of their encounters.

They opened up in October with a 4-0 triumph over Norwich City, before dishing out a 12-0 hammering to Norwich Dragons.

A 5-3 win followed away at Chelmsford, and another trip — this time in the quarter-finals at Leicester — saw Magpies come out on top by a healthy 5-1 margin.

Four of their players will be missing against Reading because of a hockey trip to South Africa with Framlingham College, but manager Andrew Woollatt is confident those that step up to fill the void will prove to be more than adequate replacements.

“The semi-final sees four Under-16 players being brought into the squad as four of our Under-18 girls are away,” he said.

“While these four players will be greatly missed, with the quality the club has through its age groups, we can be sure that the Under-16 Girls will be more than able replacements.

“Most of the team has played together through their age groups, starting at Under-10. They are very focused and it would be a fitting way to end the season with a national final.”

Were the Girls to be victorious for a fifth time, they will face the winner of Ben Rhydding versus Clifton Robinsons in May’s final at the Olympic Park in London.

While their female counterparts made light work of their quarter-final opponents last month, Magpies Boys were made to work hard for their place in the semis.

They fell behind to a short corner at home against Rugby & East Warwickshire, but responded in positive fashion with two goals to seal a slender victory.

A 2-0 win over Norwich City saw the Boys advance through to the second round, where they played out a 4-4 draw with Norwich Dragons.

The tie went into a penalty shootout, during which Magpies held their nerve to emerge victorious 4-3.

It was more of a straightforward assignment in round three as Saffron Walden were beaten 4-1, setting up the match against Rugby.

If they are to progress through to the final, they will have to do so without home advantage as they travel to take on Marlow (12pm).

The Buckinghamshire side have been one of the competition’s great entertainers this year, winning 9-0, 6-5 and 8-2 and then playing out a 4-4 draw with Surbiton in the quarter-finals, securing victory 5-4 on penalties.

Magpies Boys coach Stu Peters said of the challenge ahead: “I am so impressed with these lads.

“They play skilful hockey at a fast pace, but never lose sight of the whole team, and always support each other.

“The draw away against Marlow will be very tough, but our lads are really up for the challenge.”

The other semi-final — also being played on Sunday afternoon — sees Bournemouth play host to Leek.