Edenvilla Park men get ready to embrace life in Premier League

Mark Evans.
Mark Evans.
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The sound of that first whistle on October 10 to signal Portadown’s arrival in the Premier League will signal a landmark moment in club history.

However, it should come as no surprise to those with any connection to Portadown Men’s Hockey Club that head coach Mark Evans is refusing to dwell on the nostalgia but instead focus on mapping out a survival plan.

The forthcoming season may produce a string of fresh on-field experiences for the majority of Portadown’s squad but preparation for Premier League status dates back a number of months and Evans is putting his faith in the cornerstones of commitment and team spirit as key to progress.

“In many ways, we have been working towards top-flight hockey for some time now,” said Evans, now set for a second season as senior coach. “We got promoted due to the league changes last season but I am confident that, if handed the opportunity in a play-off scenario, we would still have been able to get over the line.

“Survival is the main objective but I am backing our players and know just how closeknit a group we have at Edenvilla Park.

“On and off the pitch there is a real bond within the group and, of course, that will prove so important this season.

“I can also guarantee that whatever happens we will go into games having prepared in the correct way and worked hard leading up to the match.”

Evans has a strong coaching background to call on and views excitement within the playing panel as a stronger aspect to close-season plans than any concern over making the step up a level.

“In all of my years coaching I have never experienced a group with such strong camaraderie as at Portadown,” said Evans. “That proved so important last season as we introduced new players and I was in my first season as club coach.

“It will prove important again in the future, especially when we come up against teams who may have the edge on us in certain areas compared to previous seasons when Portadown could expect a number of comfortable games.

“The major difference on the pitch will be the demands of facing a tough match every single time they step out in a league fixture.

“That is where preparation and mental strength come into play.

“However, we can take confidence from the fact that off-the-field work is already a big part of how we operate.

“We have been using analysis of the technical side and video footage for some time now and it has always been about putting things into place for Premier League hockey, whenever that would arrive.”

Portadown’s Kirk Cup programme has produced a 4-1 win over South Antrim and 5-2 reverse by NICS, with the next date on September 26 at home to Newry.

“When we had confirmation last season of promotion you could see how much it meant to everyone around the club, especially those senior members,” said Evans. “For so many of the players who have put so much into Portadown hockey down the years it is going to be a wonderful reward to now have Premier League games at the club.

“The progress of the younger players last season was also so encouraging and, from a coaching viewpoint, you can never stand still.

“I have spent the summer watching quite a bit of hockey and learning from as many areas as possible.

“We are under no illusions but go into the season ready to take on the challenge.”