As we detailed earlier this week, the Greenfields African Hockey Championships is currently underway at Randburg Astro. The South African teams will be favourites to secure African qualification for the Olympic Games, with arguably the bigger battle coming off the field with SASCOC should they be successful. The SA Men have started the tournament in imperious form already. One of the players South Africa will be relying on is Jethro Eustice. In the absence of rocket man Justin Reid-Ross and regular skipper Austin Smith, the diminutive midfielder will be relied upon heavily at short corner time alongside Matt Guise-Brown. Jethro, who has already captained the South African Hockey side, will also be called on to use the experience gained at the FIH Hockey World Cup to help take SA to the crown! We had a chat with Jet about all things hockey.
Jabu: The South African mens side only got together just before the Greenfileds African Hockey Championship, how are we able to be ready?
Jethro: The South African men’s team has been through a lot since the defeat against Egypt in the World League Round 2 in Cape Town and not having played a competitive match since then. It has been a hard time for the players, coaches and management. There has been some hockey though, with our local competitions as such this includes the Greenfields Elite Hockey Championship down at Riverside Hockey Club, USSA (University week) and the Mens IPT held in Pretoria just over a month ago. I have to say though, all the SA lads were desperate to get back together and right the wrongs from March.
Jabu: Do you feel more pressure for the Greenfields African Hockey Championship with the weight of expectation that comes with South Africa’s dominance in the competition over the years?
Jethro: I feel the pressure of playing is massive. We are still unsure of the actual decision of SASCOC to send the team to the Olympics if we win, but what we can control is our performance. As things have gone in the past African Cups, we have always battled with the tough conditions and unknown opposition, but having the tournament in South Africa will help us! And as we have seen already, the South African hockey supporters will come out in numbers. The pressure towards the latter part of the tournament will be massive and the senior players and coaching staff will have to step up and make the plays to help us lift the title on Sunday 1st November.
Jabu: Part of your preparation was playing club hockey in Malaysia, what was that experience like?
Jethro: Malaysia was incredible, such passion for hockey and so much talent and support structure for hockey growth from Junior level to senior teams. It has a fully professional league, which goes over 6 weeks with a playoff/post season cup in last part of the 6 weeks. This had extra money also up for grabs if you managed to make it all the way to the final. UniKL was the team I played for. We were a very young and inexperienced side, so we battled when it came to pressure parts of the each game but in saying that we got better as the tournament went on. In the end we fell out of the competition at the Quarter Final stage.
Jabu: You have played in Ireland, England and Malaysia already, which country had the best hockey culture?
Jethro: Saying that one has a better hockey culture to another is very hard to say. I really enjoyed each place. Each having different ideas and plans for the game and that it really shows how different everyone thinks about the game. But in saying that each country showed a serious passion for the growth of hockey. I believe that these nations will be producing top players and results over the next few years. I haven’t experienced a Dutch, Belgium or Germany league and they seem very professional. So hopefully one day I get that chance and learn something new and exciting in their leagues and hockey cultures.
Jabu: We hope you get the chance to play in one of the big leagues too! Going way back now, how important was Jeppe for you in terms of your development as a hockey player?
Jethro: I came from the East Rand, good old Benoni boy, but I really wanted to go to a school that put a lot of focus into sport. My grandfather went to Jeppe in the 1940s and so it seemed to be the place for me. I saw that the hockey culture and traditions were really good and the coaching staff really made it the school to be at. Rui Marais, Ricky Gay, Ryan Ravernscroft and Gareth Ewing were my coaches through my Jeppe high school career, they really were the reason my development was so good at schoolboy level. Playing for Jeppe, and learning the black and white way, really helped me be the player I am today. Having legends as old boys of the school, past and present, really makes a serious difference to the development of hockey and I think Jeppe has been so lucky to have so many! I am truly grateful that I am a part of that too.
Jabu: You also played in arguably the biggest school tournament in South Africa. How important was the Aiken Cup?
Jethro: When you look at the past winners of the competition you soon realized how tough it really is. Alongside the likes of Jeppe, KES and Parktown, who have won the competition the most, there has been strong performances from St Johns, St Davids and Noordheuwel in recent times. It is a seriously tough competition to win consistently and I loved playing in it. I was fortunate enough to have played in three finals, and sadly only winning once. For me I really enjoy the guts and hard work of the teams to get to the final, and then hopefully win it. Jeppe managed to go to shootouts in my first two years and in my Matric year sadly conceded an early goal and were unable to fight back, which allowed KES to win the Trophy for the first time in many years. It is must to go and watch to participate in.
Jabu: You were part of the FIH Hockey World Cup 2014 squad that played at the Hague in Holland, how badly do you want to be back at a global showpiece after that experience?
Jethro: The World Cup in Holland was unbelievable. This was my first big tournament and what an eye opener it was. The stage was massive with a 15000 seater football converted hockey stadium. It was a true feel of how the hockey world can come from across the world and fill the stadiums and show support this wonderful game. The pressure was immense playing against the Dutch in the Hague was really a privilege and an honor that only a few got to experience. The learning experience was unbelievable. I would love to participate at another global showpiece, and if it could be the next Olympics in Rio next year, then that what be my dream come true. So we have to do one job at a time and that is win the Greenfields African Hockey Championship, and then we will see if we get sent or not!
Jabu: And having played with a fair few of them, which of the youngsters that have recently joined the SA squad do you rate very highly?
Jethro: Well I would love to add lot of names to this list but my favorite junior lads in the setup at the moment would have to be fellow Osaka hockey player Daniel Bell and the other Daniel, Dan Sibbald. I would also include my drag flicking competitor Ignatius Malgraff. These three lads have so much talent and sometimes a lot of X-factor at such a young age. They all work really hard and love doing what is needed for the team. I definitely rate these lads as the stars for the future for SA Mens hockey team.
Jethro: It has been an honor to be learning the trade with these lads and with the current flickers in the team, and very sad at the same time that these top class exponents of this skill can’t be here to make sure we win African Cup. This does give the opportunity though for others to step in. The pressure is big and Penalty Corners are very crucial in today’s game. The coach has already put pressure on me and the rest of the guys, so I think that there is even more pressure. This does mean that I need to set up and I feel that the time is now. I have been working really hard over the last couple of months and hopefully all pays off for the team which then, in the end helps us win!
Jabu: We know you are a proud Osaka user, and the brand are making a fantastic appearance at the Greenfields African Hockey Championship, can you tell us which sticks you are using and have used recently?
Jethro: I have really enjoyed the change of stick this past two seasons. I initially tried a heavier Osaka Pro Tour LowBow 37’5 last year and really found it difficult to get the right speed and accuracy on a flick. This year with the Osaka Pro Tour LTD Neon LowBow 37’5 range and having a little bit lighter stick, it has really helped with both aspects. I have a good rhythm and feel with the stick. I am really excited to see what the new range of Osaka LowBow brings. The new Osaka stock has arrived in SA and will be displayed at Randburg Astro this week!
Jabu: We know you are a keen sportsman, so what other sport do you take part in?
Jethro: I was really fond of sports at high school, like getting involved in athletics to swimming to squash to golf and so on. But the one summer sport and one winter sport, kept me fit during my university days, and that was Cricket and Hockey. I really did enjoy my cricket. I am just finding it hard to get back into it, with being based in Europe during our summer times playing hockey for a club there, just hasn’t giving me the chance to play back in South African. I think in the next few years you will definitely see me back on the cricket field, and maybe on the golf course too
Jabu: And which teams do you support?
Jethro: For rugby it’s the Currie Cup Champions, the Emirates Lions and of course our national team the Springboks. In cricket I support the KZN Inland lads and of course for football I support the sea robbers, Orlando Pirates, locally and with a little less pride right now, Newcastle in England.
Jabu: Lastly where can our readers chat to you about all things hockey?
Jethro: Well I am most forms of social media
Twitter – jethro_ray
Instragram – jethro_ray
Facebook – Jethro Ray Eustice
If you want to know anything more about me and plans forward that is where to catch me.
Stay up to date with all things hockey and the Greenfields African Hockey Championship by following Run Ride Dive, SA Hockey, All Things Jabu and Jonathan Cook on Twitter, as our teams look to make SASCOC have a difficult decision!