For a number of years the dominance of Cheadle and Stockport in the Northern Premiership has been unbreakable. However with the rumoured movement of players this summer and strengthening of squads, can someone other than the traditional powerhouse challenge for the title? We run through the premiership clubs to get an idea of what we can expect this season.
One team that is keen to make an impact this season will be Timperley. They will see the return of 5 players from this summer’s World Games in Denver and will also welcome back a number of players from university.
England International and club captain, Mike Armstrong believes his team has what it takes to challenge for the title, but stresses that it’s a long-term objective, and this season is all about gaining experience;
“Having looked at the team for the season, we are going to be a young outfit (average age of early twenties) and hope to use that to our advantage. Even within such a young team we have players with good experience. We just want to push on to the next level and make improvements from last season as towards the end we lost some games we could have won and it cost us.”
For many years the club has been a dominant force at the junior level and this could be the season where that dominance transfers over to the senior game. One of the junior players to return to the Timperley ranks, after a spell playing for Sheffield University will be England defender Tommy Kirkland, he will join his fellow “Tanger” goalie Tim Blower in returning to their old club.
“It bodes well for the future. To have him (Kirkland) back is great and we’re starting to see a lot of the players from dominant junior teams over the past 10 years return from University and play on the first-team.” said Armstrong.
Joining Kirkland and Blower will be new LDO and ex-Wheaton Lyon defenseman Patrick Crane and promising LSM Grady Fayle who was impressive in his first full season playing in the premiership last season.
Offensively Armstrong will lead a talented offence, which boasts England midfielder Jack Brook, Scotland’s utility midfielder Resh Panesar and second LDO Blake Crossman from Dominican University. Armstrong is confident that having international/college experience in this department will be vital to lead this young talented team;
“It’s a totally different ball-game in some respects but it’s people in key positions on the field who can direct traffic and set-up if needed, Its Definitely a bonus that we have these players in the team.”
On his expectations for the season, Armstrong was keen to express that this season was all about building for the future;
“The goal is to be up there challenging and we know the strengths (and weaknesses) of the other teams around us. Realistically we aim to improve every-time we play and see where we finish up. Importantly this season is vital for us (as was the last) to ensure we continue to build for the future.”
Last season saw a resurgent Cheadle break Stockport’s dominance in both the league and the flags. With so many teams strengthening their squads this season can Stockport re-claim their crown as top dogs in NEMLA?
Co-captain and England International Tom Gosnay is more than confidant that his team can. He is under no illusion that last season performance was down to complacency and ensures that his team will not repeat the same mistakes they did last season.
“We got complacent last year, where as in previous season we knew each team would come out strong and make it hard for us, our ability shone through in the end, I think we proved that by going three/four years undefeated in flags and league. It wasn’t good enough to rely on our talent alone last season and the team will now be training twice a week and working hard to ensure that our work ethic off the field reflects our talent on it.”
Stockport will return the dependable goalie Ben McAllister, who be looking to continue his stellar form, which gained him so much praise this summer representing England.
Rivals Cheadle out performed and out smarted Stockport in the Flags Final last season, something Gosnay believes it’s important to move on from, but understands the importance of learning lessons from their disappointing season;
“We had to move on from the disappointment of last season very quickly. All of our attention is now on preparing for the challenge ahead of us this season, and we are working hard to ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
Offensively Stockport will welcome the edition of new LDO Sean Smith who joins from MCLA Division 1 team Colorado State. Smith captained CSU to two National Championships he will one of a number of players Stockport looked at during their pre-season tour to Ghent, Belgium where they won the European Club Championships. Stockport were competing in place of Cheadle who decided not to attend as champions.
“It was exciting to what Sean will bring to our squad this season. We had a good chance to look at him and others on our pre-season trip to Ghent. We also looked at a few of the younger players and A team players who have been knocking on the door of the 1st team for a while.”
Cheadle’s dominate performance last season in both the Premiership and the flag’s was impressive. The Kingsway boy’s dropped only one game all season and will looking to repeat the same success this season.
Last season saw the welcome addition of Sam Dexter from Brooklands who joined Glen Humphries, Darren Baythorpe, Ady Bennett and Danny Condron in the extremely talented offensive unit.
Pete Condron will again lead the champions again this year as he prepares to defend the double. He is excited to build on last year’s stellar performance and believes his team will only get better this season.
“We’ve been preparing well for the season and I’m confident we can repeat the same success as last season, we know our main challengers will be Stockport, but we cannot ignore Timperley and Poynton as they will also be strong this season.”
The Kingsway side will also welcome the addition of Sean Wright from Providence College. Wright racked up 23 goals and 20 assists for the Friars last season, and at 6’-7” looks like a nightmare match-up for any premiership defender. Wright will join Cheadle danger men Ady Bennett and Danny Condron in the Cheadle attack.
Arguably the best offensive unit in the league looks to have added a genuine threat capable of creating big problems for every team in the league.
Defensively, Cheadle will return all four players that locked down Stockport’s normally dependable offensive unit so easily in the Senior Flags final last season. The 2014-15 NEMLA Player of the Year, Chris Brady will also return for Cheadle. Brady’s contribution last season cannot be under estimated. He was dominant at the face-off X and he will look to continue his reign as the leagues best face-off man this season.
Last season’s third placed club, Poynton will look to build on last season success, captained by England standout Sam Russell, he will be looking for his team to create some upsets this season and hopefully break in to the top two.
“We have a young side that is constantly improving and I think with another year of experience under some players belts it could make a big difference. I think every team looks to take points of the top two, but this is something we think we can really achieve this year and we will be backing ourselves to do so.”
Russell also captained England in the summer and his experience as the quarterback of both England and the Blackbirds will be invaluable.
Poynton will be strengthened by the addition of two Lacrosse the Pond student athletes who join an already talented offensive line-up. They will be joined by Will Sugden who has transferred from Mellor. Sugden was impressive in the run-up to the 2014 World Games and will be a welcome addition to the Poynton attack. Russell will be hopeful they can contribute to a successful season.
Will Baxter will anchor the defence in goal, he had an impressive debut season last year and is a promising prospect for the future for both Poynton and England.
Newly promoted Sheffield Steelers will make a welcome return to top-flight lacrosse this season. Coached by England assistant coach Tom Wenham, he guided them to the Premiership 2 title last season, with a young and exciting team.
The Steelers were helped along the way by a number of influential players including LDO and ex-Lynchburg College midfielder’s, Vin Curran who was arguably one of the best players in the country last season.
Curran will return to the Steelers this season, joined by fellow Lynchburg teammate and defender Jon Gill. They will undoubtedly bolster the Steelers young squad.
The Steelers are not lacking in domestic talent, with the likes of Ben Lyons, Ethan Jeffery’s and Connor McDermott to name a few, Wenham has been moulding a core group of players around his lacrosse philosophies and is excited to see them in action in the premiership;
“We’ve spent the last couple of seasons bedding in a variety of offensive sets and won’t be changing these for the new season – it’s just a case of refining and bringing everyone up to speed.”
Wenham goes on to say, “That said we’ve had two very strong inside players on attack over the last couple of seasons. George Dale in particular is a big loss having left for Uni. He was actually injured for much of last season so we’ve already started the process of getting others up to speed with our crease game.
“Ben Stringer has come back from Uni and has made an immediate impact. We’ve got a new LDO and have lost Alex Williams back to Leeds. Other than that we keep the core of the same squad that played last year. Our philosophies and overall style of play won’t change much at all.”
The Steelers will also move into their new home at the Sheffield Hallam’s state-of-the-art facility at the Goodwin Centre raising the standards in terms of playing facilities for the league.
“The facilities are fantastic on and off the field. As well as a great grass pitch we also have the option of playing on 3G. We should lose few, if any games, to the weather. It also strengthens our relationship with SHU and gives us another focus area for junior and schools development.”
Mersey have traditionally been one of the strongest teams in the league, however last season saw them finish in 6th place their worst finish
in a number of seasons. Needing a change Anthony Hayes has taken on captain’s responsibilities for the upcoming season, and will also replace Rob Williams in goal, leaving one of the best goalies in the division without a spot.
Mersey squad is young and talented but has senior players in key positions. Ryan Hunns will spearhead Mersey’s offence, the youngster was impressive for Team England in the run-up to Denver, and was unfortunate not to be in the final squad. Veteran gunslinger Jamie Gallagher will also join Hunn’s in attack.
Joining Hayes at the back will be defender Josh Hurry who returns to Mersey after a stint playing for Sheffield University, Hurry will be a welcome edition at the back, and will add some defensive leadership to team which conceded an average of 10.9 goals in 16 games.
Captaining Wac’s this season will be Welsh international Eddie Owen. His team finished mid-table last season with some extremely close games against both Poynton and Timperley last season, and he will be looking for his team to challenge in the top half this year.
Wac’s will be without England face-off man Tom Gallon who will miss the season with an ongoing knee injury. Gallon will be huge loss for Wac’s as one of the best face-off men in the league his contribution to his teams possession stats will be solely missed.
“Gallon’s international experience has been invaluable over the last year. Due to his injury, he won’t be available for a while. We have a great face-off player in Dave O’Callaghan and it is a big chance for him to step up and be one of the best face-off players in the league. We also have Reece Eagle available this season, both are extremely dynamic in this position”.
Joining Manchester this season will be Matthew Collier from Boardman & Eccles. Collier is a promising two-way midfielder who will definitely strengthen the team. Joining Collier will be new LDO and ex-New England College defender Andrew Crozier.
Owen is excited to see his team in action and is confident that his team will surprise a few teams this year;
“We are an ambitious club, with a great foundation and it is now important that we profess further this season. We have finish mid table for the last few years in the league and reached the flags semi finals for the last two years. However, I think we are capable of going further. We have prepared well and think we will surprise some teams this coming season.”
With Sheffield University opting not to be promoted to Premiership 1, Brooklands Hulmeians will make a welcome return to Premiership 1. The Trafford based club enjoys a flourishing junior section, and they will be looking to repeat the same success at the senior level.
Finishing 3rd last season the club last played in the premiership over four seasons ago and will return to the top flight without a number of their talented junior players, who have either moved to other clubs or decided to stay at university.
Most notable of these players are Will Baxter and Sam Dexter who both had excellent seasons in the Premiership 1 last year with Poynton and Cheadle.
Ryan Sweetman will lead the Brooklands offence having returned from playing at university with Leeds Metropolitan. He will be joined by LDO midfielder Johnny Espositio who played for Mary Washington College.
Brooklands head coach Nick Hewitt is confident the current crop of players can hold their own in the premiership this season. Brooklands currently field one of the best U19 programs in the country with a number of players also involved with the National Academies.
Week 1 Fixtures
Manchester Wacs vs. Stockport
Heaton Mersey vs. Timperley
Sheffield Steelers vs. Poynton