East Grinstead to avoid complacency ahead of title defence
EAST Grinstead coach Matt Jones insists his players are keeping their feet firmly on the ground ahead of their defence of the England Hockey League Premier Division title.
HIGH HOPES: East Grinstead coach Matt Jones has high hopes for his side but refuses to get carried away
The Sussex outfit kick off their season with a tricky visit to Cannock on Sunday but with the season starting a week earlier than usual, Jones admits the opener has crept up on him quicker than he expected.
East Grinstead swept to a domestic treble last season, bagging the National Indoor League and National Indoor Championships as well as their Premier Division title.
But with another crack at the Euro Hockey championships also in the pipeline and a lengthy injury list, Jones is already playing down expectations.
"The first few weeks will be a real test for us this year," said Jones. "The league starts a week earlier this year and we've played a few pre-season friendlies but we're not feeling properly prepared.
"It was a long summer with the EuroHockey Nations tournaments and with injuries and internationals and we won't be at full strength for a few weeks.
"Out of all the domestic clubs, we've got the busiest schedule and the rest of the teams know that.
"But the players are used to cramming it into a relatively short space of time - they're experienced guys and they understand what they have to do."
The Premier Division is expected to be wide open this year with most teams bringing in numerous new faces and the English players high in confidence following their EuroHockey Nations triumph this summer.
Last season's runners-up Reading are sure to be competitive again under the management of former player Ben Barnes and they start at home to Hampstead and Westminster.
Beeston and Surbiton have both improved their squads by adding Carl Smith and Spain's Alejandro Iglesias and start with away matches at Loughborough Students and Bowdon respectively while newcomers Brooklands MU and the University of Exeter start their campaigns against each other.
Jones has brought in new faces himself with Scottish international Niall Stott the most high profile name to arrive at Saint Hill and the East Grinstead coach was adamant the league would come down to the wire again.
"It's going to be a really open again this year," said Jones. "A few of the sides have strengthened significantly and we have brought in some players ourselves.
"The last 15 or 20 minutes are where matches are won or lost and it's important to have a big integrated squad.
"For those playing the indoor season and in Europe as well, it's hard to stay injury-free for the whole year so the best teams need to be able to cope with players missing.
"We're not a complete squad yet - we're still looking to bring some more players in and I'm sure other teams are as well.
"But we just have to cope as well as we can until then."