England star backs Ipswich youth

IPSWICH Hockey Club star Jo Ellis believes it is only a matter of time before one of the Suffolk club's hot young prospects follows in her footsteps and receives full international honours.

Stuart Watson

IPSWICH Hockey Club star Jo Ellis believes it is only a matter of time before one of the Suffolk club's hot young prospects follows in her footsteps and receives full international honours.

At present the Tuddenham Road club has four young players included in the England Under-16 and U18 squads, while a further 13 are involved in the new elite Junior Development Programme Centres.

Most of those are playing in their club's third teams, while many are playing for Ipswich's second teams at a high level of East League hockey.

A handful though have already been blooded in their club's National League first teams, with some, such as Chloe Hunnable and Josh Godfrey, making their debuts in the top flight of the English game as young as 16-years-old.

Ellis also made her first team debut for the Suffolk club at 16 and has gone on to win multiple caps for England and Great Britain, including appearances at this year's Beijing Olympics.

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She said: “For me, Ipswich is the reason why I have achieved what I have. The way the club looked after me as a young player helped me enormously.

“I've had the pleasure of coaching some of the young players coming through at the club and there are some incredible players.

“They have got huge potential and big careers ahead of them. If they keep progressing the way they are then I see absolutely no reason why some of them won't become international players.

“Playing for Ipswich's first team at such a young age was the reason why I developed the way I did. I was the tiniest and skinniest girls for my age, let alone amongst all the women, but it helped toughen me up.

“It's right to put these youngsters in early because if you continue to let them play in their comfort zones the they will not learn.”

Ipswich Hockey Club chairman James Wrinch echoes Ellis' thoughts. He said: “We are in a very privileged position to have so many fantastic young players coming through at the moment. Certainly the club is doing as well now with its youngsters as I can ever remember.

“We've always tried to identify talent in the local area early and then provide them with pathways towards the first team. There are not many clubs out there that try and bring on their youngsters so quickly, but we feel we have a responsibility to get them playing at the correct level as soon as they are ready.

“Providing that they make the most of their talent I can see absolutely no reason why some of these players won't go on to become senior internationals.”

Like the town's football club, Ipswich Hockey Club has long prided itself on its junior system and has been able to attract the very best youngsters from Suffolk and the surrounding counties with the lure of its 'if you're old enough, you are good enough' adage.

But in recent years, Jo Ellis aside, the club has failed to keep hold of its best young players due to the fact that many have moved away from the area in order to go to university.

Wrinch hopes that might now change with the opening of the new Suffolk University in Ipswich. He said: “It should benefit all of the town's sports clubs.

“The downfall has always been that many of the youngsters have left for university and not returned, however, that could now be about to change.”

Richard Pittaway has just stepped down from his role as Head of Junior Section, but agrees that these are exciting times for the club.

He said: “I think we are seeing the results now of the work the club has put in to strengthening links with local schools.

“Our strongest link has been with Ipswich School, but we also work with the likes of Framlingham, Woodbridge and Copleston. It means the club has spread its search for quality wider and wider and we are now seeing the benefits of that.”