Matt Higgins is back in his first full season playing in the Goulburn Valley Hockey Association after competing in Melbourne for two decades.
But there has been one constant in the Shepparton Youth Club side with defender Craig McDonald there when Higgins was a 21-year-old and still playing when he has returned at age 41.
‘‘It’s quite surreal, but it’s funny, he hasn’t lost the way he goes about his game in all his time, it’s good to have that experience in the side,’’ Higgins said.
Starting hockey when the club was known as the SYC Cricketers, Higgins travelled back and forth from Melbourne for eight years when competing with Altona Hockey Club.
He was a fixture at the Victorian Premier League club for another 12 years while living in the city.
In his later years Higgins travelled down just once a week and said he was afforded some concessions due to his experience.
‘‘Later in life I was fortunate enough, being the fossil of the team, not having to train, but it was very difficult and I really did rely on a lot of help from Mum and Dad as a 21 year-old,’’ he said.
With a busy life running the family business at Higgins Bakery as well as looking after three young children — Jack, 7, Milly, 4, and Will, 1— the SYC ace took last year off playing hockey all together.
But he is back in the fold this year, helping out head coach Matt Irwin with Higgins saying they take a similar approach.
‘‘Matt’s fantastic, he’s a great leader of men and everyone gets along with him really well,’’ Higgins said.
‘‘He’s got a really good coaching style, I like it, he’s pretty blunt and tells you how it is whether it’s good or bad and I’m the same, I get along with him exceptionally well.’’
The club is trying to make its brand of hockey more enticing to encourage juniors to remain in the sport.
While the profile of hockey remains high during Olympic and Commonwealth years, it vanishes during the off years.
As a result Higgins said some elite Australian players were spurred on to compete in the Netherlands, Germany or Spain where athletes can earn a full-time wage out of the sport.
But at a local level, he said it was about making the game a more entertaining spectacle to watch.
‘‘If we can train the way we play, that’s with A-grade and B-grade, and get better it’ll be more exciting for them to play hockey,’’ Higgins said.
‘‘Hockey is very much based on soccer, so we’re trying to make it more fast-paced with quick ball movement and mastering the basics of hitting and trapping.
‘‘It’s been great (being back), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, we’ve got a very eager and great bunch of guys.’’
Higgins’ SYC team is atop GVHA ladder and continued on its march after defeating Mooroopna 7-4 at the weekend.
The Shepparton Strikers and Echuca fought out a tough battle with Strikers prevailing 4-3 to jump into second spot.
In women’s action, the Cats were too strong for SYC with Alicia Cornelius brilliant in the 3-1 win and the Murray Bombers also defeated Strikers by the same margin.