KUALA LUMPUR: Teams in the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) have just over five months to get ready again for the 16th edition of competition.
And with the imminent inclusion of the National Juniors for the new season, which begins in April, teams will be hard-pressed to come up with an improved side.
In the just concluded MHL, all the top teams had juniors playing major roles in their ranks. And some of the teams have begun luring the better performers to their sides with better job offers.
Tenaga coach K. Rajan, who led his side to retaining the overall title, felt that the inclusion of the national juniors would only dilute the strength of the other teams.
“It is better the MHF (Malaysian Hockey Federation) continue to allow the juniors to feature for the club sides,” said Rajan.
“In this year's MHL, the juniors were already key players for their teams and they will certainly not lose out playing for the clubs. For the clubs, if the juniors are taken away, where are they to find capable replacements.”
He agreed that priority should be given to the training of the national juniors.
“If the Junior World Cup is a priority, the MHL could be held much earlier – allowing them to play for the clubs and then giving them more time to train together as a team after the MHL.
“The MHL could also be held later in the year.”
The MHF want to field the national juniors in the MHL as part of their preparation for the Junior World Cup, which will be held in July.
Maybank coach Wallace Tan also felt that the inclusion of the national juniors team would have a major effect on the clubs' challenge for honours.
“The juniors are slowly taking over from the seniors and almost all the 40 players in the national junior training squad were on the payroll of clubs in the MHL,” he said.
“I do not know if the decision to have the juniors in the league is the right one but it certainly needs more input before the decision is confirmed,” he said.
Besides Tenaga and Maybank, the other teams who had juniors playing key roles for them include league champions Sapura, league and overall runners-up Ernst and Young and Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), who finished third overall.
The MHF are expected to finalise the dates for the 2005 MHL season next week.
Only the executive committee can review the decision on the national juniors' participation in the MHL.
National juniors coach Sarjit Singh said: “The important thing is for us to keep the players together next year before the Junior World Cup.
“We need a lot of matches and playing in the MHL is one option. Otherwise we will have to arrange for tour matches.”
Meanwhile,the thumbs-up has been given to the format of MHL, which featured 18 matches (home and away) in the preliminary round. The knockout rounds had two-leg ties for the quarter-final and semi-finals. The final and playoff for third place were decided over one match.
Ernst and Young coach S. Arulselvaraj said: “I'm sure having the home and away format is the right step. We must improve on the league further.”