Western Australian hockey appears to be headed for a bright future after the SmokeFree WA Thundersticks claimed the AHL championship on Sunday with a 4-2 win over favourites and two-time reigning champion Queensland Blades.
Of greater significance was the high number of WAIS athletes included in the Thundersticks squad and the stand-out performances through-out the two week tournament of Olympic hopefuls Fergus Kavanagh and Kiel Brown. Both men have been named in the pre-Olympic 24-man squad which is to be cut down to 16 in June.
2007 Kookaburras player of the year Bevan George and teammate Aaron Hopkins are near certainties to be named in the shorter squad barring any injuries. George again proved his champion ilk by taking out the player of the tournament award for his efforts in the Thundersticks back-line.
WAIS Head Hockey Coach David Bell was pleased to see the progress of the WAIS program and the results being achieved.
"Any win at this level is an amazing achievement, and to do it with such a young squad is even more pleasing," said Bell.
The average age of the Thundersticks squad is a youthful 23 and with the loss of some experienced campaigners before the competition, WA's success has come as quite a surprise to many.
"The longer term benefit of this result is that a youthful squad was given exposure to a high level of competition and the subsequent success indicates that the players are keen," said Bell.
Kavanagh and Brown were named in the Australian development squad in 2007 and impressed sufficiently to be elevated into the senior squad, a promotion that both revelled in. The pair travelled and played in Australia's recent Five Nations success in South Africa, showcasing their maturity and burgeoning talents.
Kavanagh is a versatile prospect. He played most of the AHL tournament in an attacking midfield role, but has also experienced playing time in the back-line or in a defensive midfield role. Brown can also adapt to different positions having played as a centre half and in defensive midfield. Given the final squad is to be shortened to 16, versatility could prove a vital selection key.
Australian Men's National Coach Barry Dancer stressed that no spot is safe and that the options available to the Kookaburras are strong.
"When you are comfortable and there is a degree of comfort and familiarity it doesn't always necessarily create sufficient edge in what you're doing," said Dancer.
"What we've been able to do in the last two months, and which will be part of our program for the next 10 weeks or so, will be to take away some of that comfort with a much greater competitiveness for places in the Olympic team,"
Kavanagh and Brown still face a nervous wait to see if they will represent their country at the Beijing Games but at least know they have done everything in their power to impress the National selectors.
Pre-Olympic Squad: Des Abbott (striker, Territory Stingers), Travis Brooks (striker, VIC Vikings), Kiel Brown (midfielder, WA Thundersticks), Nathan Burgers (goalkeeper, Canberra Lakers), Liam De Young (defender, QLD Blades), Luke Doerner (defender, VIC Vikings), Jamie Dwyer (striker/ midfielder, QLD Blades), Nathan Eglington (midfielder, QLD Blades), Russell Ford (striker, VIC Vikings), Bevan George (defender, WA Thundersticks), David Guest (midfielder, TAS Tigers), Robert Hammond (midfielder, QLD Blades), Aaron Hopkins (defender, WA Thundersticks), Fergus Kavanagh (midfielder, WA Thundersticks), Mark Knowles (defender, QLD Blades), Stephen Lambert (goalkeeper, QLD Blades), Brent Livermore (midfielder, NSW Waratahs), Eli Matheson (striker, NSW Waratahs), Stephen Mowlam (goalkeeper, VIC Vikings), Eddie Ockenden (striker, TAS Tigers), Simon Orchard (midfielder, NSW Waratahs), Grant Schubert (striker, SA Hotshots), Andrew Smith) striker/ midfielder, VIC Vikings), Matthew Wells (defender, TAS Tigers).