A gutsy fightback from 3-1 down in a key match against champions PE Crusaders was the catalyst for Madibaz to regain the Eastern Province men’s premier league hockey title this season.
This was the view of Mandela University coach Cheslyn Gie as they overcame tough competition and last year’s poor record to be crowned provincial champions.
After ending in the bottom three in 2022, Gie, who is also South Africa’s national team coach, said they had exceeded expectations as they stormed through their programme unbeaten.
“We looked at a top-three finish in the league after last year’s performance,” said Gie.
“I feel that a turning point for us was when we rallied to draw the first-round match against Crusaders after being 1-3 down at the start of the fourth quarter.”
The Madibaz coach is convinced this result gave his team the belief that they could compete against the titleholders.
Overcoming a tenacious Lakeside Cavaliers side 2-1 a few weeks prior to the league decider was also crucial in toughening up the team, who went on to beat Crusaders despite not playing their best hockey.
Critical elements in their league success centred around meticulous pre-season planning and the unit’s strength on defence.
“For the team to understand what we wanted to achieve, we drew up a playbook with different patterns of play to study,” explained Gie.
This tied in with their pre-season work, which was to reach the level of fitness required to adopt a specific style. That paid off handsomely as the team excelled on defence and especially so in the decider.
“The players stood up and defended well for extended periods as Crusaders created many scoring chances,” said the coach. “This is where our fitness levels kicked in.”
The level of competition meant they faced a proper challenge, added Gie, whose team last won the premier league in 2019.
Crusaders, for example, fielded a team that included past and present national players as well as several Madibaz alumni.
They included former Mandela University sportsman of the year Ignatius Malgraff, Dalan Phillips, Winray Christoffels, Clayton Saker, Curtis Samboer, Jacques Potgieter, André Potgieter and Nathan Waters.
Lakeside Cavaliers, league winners in 2021, and Gelvan Hurricanes also looked like they could pose a potential headache for Gie’s relatively young side.
The input from assistant coach Gerrard Noah proved critical, along with the contributions of some leading players.
“Gerrard brought a calmness to the team and his coaching expertise has helped them grow,” the Madibaz mentor acknowledged.
All in all, he attributed their success in 2023 to a team effort. However, he singled out goalkeeper Kamva Dyakala, who led the defence well while making “some very important saves”.
Captain Rick Vaupotic was pivotal in midfield, from where he controlled the game, and defender Edward Gibbons scored vital drag flicks throughout the season.
Among the younger players, first years Gerhard Rockman and Zaakir Ensal made significant contributions in the midfield.
Regaining the title was a step in the right direction as the club aims to consistently produce a higher standard of play.
“We want to continue this momentum going forward,” said Gie, who is currently putting his charges through a post-season fitness programme with an eye on next year’s Easter and USSA tournaments.
In the latter, their aim is to get back into the A section and then compete for the medal positions.