Wisbech Town Hockey Club stalwart aiming to make it third time lucky in HA Trophy

Veteran keeper James Sheppard is aiming to make it third time lucky as he looks to inspire Wisbech Town Hockey Club to another HA Trophy Final.

Sheppard has suffered the agony of losing two national finals with his hometown club - 5-0 against Bournemouth in 2000 and a heartbreaking 5-4 golden goal defeat to Spencer in 2002.

But with Wisbech travelling to Saffron Walden tomorrow in the competition's last 16, weather permitting, the 41-year-old admits he is dreaming of reaching another final.

Sheppard said: 'I'll try and gee the lads up by telling them how good getting to a final like that is.

'It brings the whole club together. I'll explain how great it feels to play in a game like that. We got a massive crowd for the finals and the semi finals and it's very exciting to be part of it all.

'I'd rather have lost those two finals than not got there by being knocked out in the semis. At least you have the day and get your medal. It's a great experience which brings the club together and a great day out which I'd love to do again.

'We need to beat Saffron Walden to keep alive our chance of reaching the final but we won't be underestimating them. They'll be looking to cause an upset and they've got in the habit of winning this season.'

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Sheppard, who has played for Wisbech for 22 years and was part of his club's mixed team which lost last season's national mixed plate final, is close to making his 400th first-team appearance.

Team-mates Brad Apted and Jonathan Shippey are also survivors from the 2000 final. Joe Melton - who left the club but has now returned - also played in the game.

'We all want to get to another final to avenge those defeats,' said Sheppard.

'A good run in the trophy can boost the profile of the club. You've got Long Sutton, Pelicans (King's Lynn), March and Peterborough all within a 30-mile radius. We're all looking at getting players from the same talent pool. Doing well in the HA Trophy can help attract players to Wisbech.'

Saffron Walden are second in Division Two South of the East Men's Hockey League pyramid - three levels below Premier Division B Wisbech.

A defeat in the tie may not end Sheppard's hopes of finally lifting the coveted trophy as the stalwart admits he could continue playing next season.

Sheppard said: 'I was thinking about finishing a couple of years ago but I got our player of the year, was selected for the East Vets (over 40s side) and had trials for the England Veterans side too. I didn't get in but it's all driven me on to continue.

'I keep going because I just love playing hockey. I love the camaraderie. My age hasn't really affected me as I can still get off my line and my reflexes are good.'

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