HOME DEFENCE: Grafton masters muscle up for State titles
HOCKEY: The three Grafton representative sides have a simple message to the slew of invading association rep teams: this is our turf.
A rare chance for the Grafton Hockey Association to host the NSW Men's Masters Over-50s State Championships, which kick off today, has given the town's large number of masters players a chance to pull on the maroon and blue in front of their home town, family and friends.
It has brought a swell in numbers for the Grafton hockey sides who are all determined to put in a good showing on home turf and show off what Grafton hockey has to offer.
Grafton Men's Masters Hockey chairman Peter Gibbons said the carnival was a perfect chance for the local hockey community to show their pride in the town.
"This is important for us to show off our facilities, and to show the state what we can do as the city of Grafton," he said. "We have got two Australian level Masters players, and up to 10 state level players all from Grafton, which for a small regional association that makes it all the more appropriate that we hold an event such as this.
"We hope we can provide a little inspiration to our own young juniors coming through the ranks that they can aspire to these levels if they continue their hockey."
With the event being on home turf, a slew of players who would generally not have been able to travel, have put their hands up to play for Grafton with the association nominating 44 players for the state titles.
Grafton will play in all three divisions with Gibbons leading the second division side, while Mick Russ takes the first division team and Ken Davison leads the third division team on to the field.
For Russ' men, who were semi-finalists in the tournament last year at Bathurst, they will be pushing to go one better and make it into the final on Sunday afternoon.
"This is a big occasion for a lot of our players," Russ said. "In 45 years of rep hockey, I think this is only the second time I have got to represent Grafton at home.
"We have a better side this year, and with the matches on home soil I think it will spur us on to do better than last year's semi-final finish.
"You don't want to let the town down, you don't want to let anyone in Grafton hockey down either. We will be playing with the spirit of Grafton hockey behind us."
While his side is made up of players from all four local clubs, Russ said the players had really gelled in training sessions and were ready to get on field together.
"We are only a small comp so we know how everyone else plays and it is not hard to find that chemistry really quickly," he said. "Some of us have been doing this since we were kids, so we really know each other well. Like Tony Ryder and I, we made our first Grafton side together in under-12s and have been playing rep hockey every year since."
Grafton will host 2016 champs Bathurst in what has become a bit of a "pool of death" for the first division side but Russ said his men know how to fight tooth and nail and they wouldn't be taking a backward step.
The Masters titles kick off tomorrow at 8am running all weekend before finishing on Sunday afternoon.