A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Rhodri furlong looking to make “something special” happen with Holcombe

By Lucas Ball

Wales international Rhodri Furlong has been impressed with the start that Holcombe have made to their Premier Division campaign, with Barry Middleton’s side having secured a top-six spot for Phase Two with two games to spare.

Now in his second season with the club, the former Hampstead & Westminster midfielder has his eyes sit firmly on delivering a maiden Premier Division title to Holcombe, having finished as runners-up last season after losing to Old Georgians in the league final.

Holcombe currently sit three points behind both Old Georgians and Surbiton, the reigning champions ahead of the Londoners on goal difference only. Wimbledon, Hampstead & Westminster and Southgate currently round out the top-six, with only Kwan Browne’s side yet to confirm their spot in the top-six for Phase Two when the league splits after Christmas.

Winning the title would lead to another Euro Hockey League campaign, with Holcombe narrowly beaten in this season’s KO8 by hosts Real Club de Polo de Barcelona.

Speaking ahead of Holcombe’s clash with Cardiff, Furlong said: “We’ve got off to a really positive start and I think we’ve come into our own this year.

“There were some new additions at the start of last season, myself included, and now most of us have had a year together, we’ve gelled quite nicely.

“We’ve got a good identity as a team and the hockey that we play is exciting to watch and we score lots of goals. It’s a really, really positive place for us at the moment – long may it continue!

“That’s always the aim in this first half of the season – to secure top-six.

‘We’ve done that and we’ve done that early, I think it’s important that we keep trying to push ourselves so the last two games that we’ve got coming up against Cardiff and Hampstead, if we win both of those then that puts us in a very strong position to challenge for the league in the next phase.

“We’ve done job one, we’ve ticked it off, get top-six – that’s secured and now we can start thinking a little bit more towards what’s going to happen after Christmas and putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to be title contenders.

“Europe was brilliant, that’s probably one of the best trips I’ve been on and I’ve been on a fair few with Wales and played in a lot of tournaments around the world.

“Barcelona was brilliant, obviously it was a shame we couldn’t get over the line against Real Club de Polo but I’m hoping that we’ll be back there next year and we’ll see what we can make happen.”

Holcombe’s only league defeats this season have come at the hands of Old Georgians and Wimbledon, with poor spells within the match costing Holcombe as they conceded more than once in quick succession.

Those spells left them with too much work to do in either match despite neither side outplaying Middleton’s men across the 70 minutes.

Furlong said: “It’s about consistency, we can be – I’d argue – one of the strongest teams, if not the strongest, on our given day – we beat Surbiton at finals weekend and beat them at the league, but beating the top sides is about delivering those performances consistently – week in, week out.

“That’s something we’re going to have to do to make sure that we put ourselves in the best possible situation to win the league. That’s the bit we need to add, just a little bit more consistency and then hopefully we can make something special happen by either winning the play-offs or win the league.

“When it comes to the best teams in the league, matches are normally defined by tight margins so what happens in either circle.

“In both the Wimbledon and Old Georgians matches, we lost that side – they put goals in, we didn’t score enough and didn’t take our chances, especially against Wimbledon. 

“It’s something that we’re aware of and we’re working on, we’ve shown that we can score a lot of goals consistently, there have been some very high-scoring games in our favour and now we need to step it up and continue to do it against the bigger teams.”

Furlong, one of a number of new signings last summer, saw Alex Pendle, Brad Read and Louis Duprez join ahead of this campaign. Now in a more settled role, Furlong’s own performances have improved immensely from the start of his Holcombe career, while he has also been impressed by this season’s new additions.

“I’ve been given a little bit more licence this year to get involved and that’s in part due to the tactics that we’ve adopted.

“On the whole I think it always takes a little bit of time to settle in when you join a new team, obviously I’ve been playing hockey for a very long time but how you fit into your role within a given team varies.

“It look me a little bit of time to find my feet but from the World Cup onwards, I felt like I knew exactly what I was there to do, Barry gave me very clear instructions and a clear game plan to follow.

“The performances are certainly getting better so it’s just about contributing what I can contribute to make sure we keep winning.

“Pendle’s been on the goal sheet a fair amount and he’s transitioned into the team seamlessly.

“Louis’ been very good, he’s very solid and quite experienced so again, a very good addition.

Brad’s excellent, a really experienced head, he’s played at the highest level – obviously he’s been at Holcombe before – and he’s been a brilliant addition, he’s had a really strong season so far. He adds a lot.”

As the sole Welsh representative in Holcombe’s squad, Furlong will face a side littered with his international teammates this weekend as Holcombe bid to further boost their title chances while next weekend, he will come up against one of his former clubs in Hampstead & Westminster at Paddington Recreational Ground.

“I know a lot of the Cardiff guys very well, I’ve probably played with six, seven or eight of them for around 10 years so I’m really looking forward to it, it’ll be great to see them, to play against them.

“They’ve managed to get in the Prem which is brilliant for Cardiff as a club and Wales as a country but ultimately I’m a Holcombe hockey player, we’ll be looking to come away with the full three points. It’ll be nice to see some old friends and catch up with them after in the bar.

“Hampstead are a very strong side, I played there for a number of years before moving to Holcombe so I know a lot of the boys really well and have a great deal of respect for the club and those guys.

“Again, ultimately, we need to get the three points to put us in the best possible position for next year. It’ll be a challenge, they’re a strong outfit at the moment and it will be a really good challenge for us but I believe that we’ve got enough to get us over the line.

“It won’t be an easy game by any means and we’re going to have to win both circles to get the result that we want.”

This weekend’s match forms part of a second consecutive first-team double-header with Holcombe’s women’s side also in action against Kent rivals Canterbury at 2pm ahead of the men’s game at 6pm.

Furlong told how much he enjoys playing at Holcombe Park, praising both the supporters and the improved coverage of fixtures as a whole this season across the Premier Division.

“The double-headers are brilliant. Playing at Holcombe Park is definitely favoured, it gives us a massive advantage.

“People don’t like coming to Holcombe Park because our record there is very good, which is something we need to keep defending.

“We normally get a brilliant crowd out, the atmosphere’s really good, really positive and we’ve got a great set up in that we’ve got the bar at the pitch so hopefully we can get the win and then go and enjoy ourselves afterwards.

“I think it’s brilliant, we need to get hockey out there to grow the game.

“For other players, other fans – they should be able to watch the highest level of hockey, watch highlights and engage with it, it’s not always possible to get down to games. 

“Most of the Premier Division clubs are south-based, I think the most northern are Beeston and the University of Nottingham, there’s no one in the north playing in the Prem anymore so people up there might struggle to get down and see a game at the highest level so it makes perfect sense to stream the games and put up highlights to give everyone an opportunity to see what it’s about.”

Holcombe face two more Phase One fixtures against Cardiff & Met and Hampstead & Westminster before the Christmas break, returning to indoor action in January ahead of Phase Two.

Both first-team matches are free to watch at Holcombe Park on Saturday and will be streamed on Veo Live, with updates also available across the club’s social media channels.

Image: Martin Waight