National Glory tops off a brilliant season for the GHC Under 14 Girls Squad...
The England Hockey National Championship Finals are held each Spring at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in the London 2012 Olympic Legacy park. After months of qualifying rounds and play offs, Guildford had qualified as one of the best 8 teams in the country from a starting line up of more than 80 teams.
Well done to the team:
Alice, Ariane, Cecily, Eliza, Emma H, Emma S, Esta, Floss, Heather, Issie F, Issie de V, Jazz, Mattie, Millie, Raph, Sascha, Siena, Sophie
The girls arrived in London at varying times during Saturday afternoon. We stayed at the Premier Inn Westfield Stratford which is attached to the shopping centre. The appeal of the Premier Inn for the team management is that it is the closest hotel to the venue - a 15min walk to Lee Valley Hockey Centre. The appeal to most of the girls was a few hours roaming around the shops before the official meet time of 5pm. Dr Woods was also spotted in Westfield at the champagne bar - the 3 empty glasses in front of him were apparently purely for medicinal purposes.
We met at 5pm and checked in. And then we were off to Pizza Express for some dinner and team bonding including a terrific National Finals 2017 cake specially arranged by one of the best Squad Managers in history, Diana Cant.
Straight after dinner the coaches and players went for a debrief about what would happen on the day and what to expect. It was lights out at 10 for the girls (although I'm sure a few chatted away so our spies told us). The parents enjoyed a drink in the bar alongside a few parents from Repton and Reading who were also staying at the Premier Inn.
Breakfast was promptly at 7:45 and then the team walked through the Olympic park to loosen the legs and start to take in some Olympian atmosphere ready for a tough day's competition.
Guildford were placed into 'Pool A' against Spencer, Beeston and Reading. 'Pool B' had Isca, Repton, Surbiton and Marlow. The winner of each group would play for overall 1st/2nd (Gold/Silver) place. Second place in the pools would contest for a bronze medal and so on.
Match 1 vs Spencer
Guildford started on the back foot, Spencer pressed well and pushed forward in numbers. Half time passed at 0-0. With 5 minutes to go Guildford got a breakthrough with a lovely goal from Issie F rounding the keeper. Unfortunately, the lead only lasted 2 minutes and the game ended 1-1. On reflection a draw was a fair result, when you take the lead and concede with a few minutes to go its disappointing, but Spencer played some great hockey.
Match 2 vs Beeston
We had our first chance to play on the ‘Olympic Show pitch’ against Beeston. We were pressed hard for the first 5 minutes, but as the game progressed Guildford started to dominate more of the action. The match ended 1-0 to Guildford with Eliza grabbing the goal.
Match 3 vs Reading
As it stood so far in Pool A, any of the 4 teams could still qualify for a medal match. Guildford needed at least a draw to guarantee a medal match. Back on Pitch 2 for this one, the match followed the same recipe as our three previous meetings with Reading. They are a quality outfit and it was very close. Reading took the brave deicision to go with a kicking back for the final three minutes and the result could have gone either way with Reading hitting the post in that time. Cec came close in the D towards the very end but the game ended in a draw. Te goal drought in Pool A continued and the other pool match also ended in a goalless draw, so, all four places in the pool needed to be deicded by flicks. With our and Spencer's wins in previous matches, we were to face them in the shoot-out for a place in the Final. While Reading and Beeston fought for a place in the 5th/6th play-off.
Penalty Shoot-out to Determine Final Pool Positions
We were ushered back onto the show pitch for the flicks. With Raph in goal and 5 well drilled takers, we always had a chance. A clean push to the corner by Jazz and a save from Raph put us 1-0 up. An assured drag into the right side netting by Emma S was matched by Spencer before Siena pulled a powerful flick inches wide of the left upright. All level at 2-2! A confident conversion by Heather and another super save from Raph left captain Greenhalgh to convert for a 4-2 win and a meeting with Surbiton in the final.
Final vs Surbiton
Some games you know you will have to give it your all. Guildford Hockey Club had a visitor a few weeks ago, Susannah Townsend. Susannah is a GB Rio Gold medallist who gave the girls some advice. GB knew before facing Holland in the Rio final that they would be under pressure and that they would face skilful players but........ if they worked harder than the opposition off the ball, believed in themselves and focussed on the strength of their team they could beat anyone. It ended up being sound advice for the Guildford girls as Surbiton dominated the possession and Guildford certainly had to work hard off the ball.
The final was a tense and pulsating show of teamwork from both sides. Surbiton passed the ball around with speed and Guildford matched them channelling, pressing and making crucial interceptions. When a Surbiton shot managed to break through our defensive structure, Raph in goal was a match for it. Guildford had one shot on target, spent at least 20 of the 30 minutes in our own half and defended 6 or 7 PCs superbly.
We were under a lot of pressure; it was strangely pulsating rather than nerve wracking. Guildford matched every offense from Surbiton with exceptional and equal defence. Every penetration into our 23yd line was met with crisp jabs, blocks or channelling. For every break Surbiton made through the Guildford ranks, there was a Guildford player to intercept it. On display was a great offensive team playing against a great defensive team.
With 30 seconds to go Surbiton won a short corner. The match timer blew and all the Surbiton players closed around the D for a very tense end to the match. Surbiton made a good injection and a shot was hit toward goal but yet again a Guildford stick deflected it away. The whistle blew to signal the end of match play to a huge cheer from all of the Guildford girls and the final was now to be decided on flicks. I asked one of the girls why they cheered at the end of the match when there were flicks still to go. She said the team had decided in the huddle that they would not be beaten in match play and they had achieved that and that they had confidence in our keeper and penalty takers.
Final Penalty Shoot-out
We had practised flicks for the last few months. We had them in the HCGL finals day competition a few weeks earlier and also to reach this final only a few hours before. Raph in goal was fired up and in the zone. The flick takers were ready and had experienced the pressure before. Jazz, Emma S and Siena scored their flicks. Raph had already made 2 amazing saves. The Surbiton taker made a great connection, but Raph was not to be denied with a great diving save down to her right. The umpires signalled the Guildford win and Raph was consumed by a barrage of players in a delirium of happiness. I’m sure Maddie Hinch will be in contact to ask you for your secrets, Raph.
Guildford were crowned National Club Under 14 Girls Champions 2017. The Surbiton players were gracious and very sportsmanlike in defeat. Whilst upset, they all shook hands and congratulated the Guildford players.
It was a final where our defence had stood tall like titans - they coped with everything thrown at them and were not to be penetrated. Our midfield ran and closed down the opposition unlike anything we had seen all season - they were immense. Our forwards ran the line and chased down the ball in the opposition half like their lives depended on it. And then the girls won an epic final on flicks and Raph in goal had a game to remember what she trains so hard for. They all deserved the win!
The girls voted Raph as their player of the tournament, deservedly so, but every girl of the 18 player squad played an amazing role and their team spirit and teamwork won through.
End of the Season
This brings to a close the 2016/17 season for this team. A few highlights of the season include:
- HCGL Premier League West Winners (finished at top of the league table)
- HCGL Premier League Finals Day Gold
- England Hockey Tier 1 (Local Championship Pool) Winners
- England Hockey Tier 2 (Regional Championship Pool) Winners
- Engalnd Hockey Tier 3 (National Championships) Gold
- Barcelona Inmaculada (International) Bronze
League and National Cup Winners! And lots of other great matches and training sessions and hard work along the way to get here!
A big thanks to the whole u14 girls squad, parents, coaches, U14/16 age group squads/training partners, pitch booking master Jeremy, and other team managers for the hours they put into making this possible.
But ultimately it was the 18 girls who put everything they had out on the pitch - after all of the season's preparation, they still had to make it happen.
Well done to the entire Under 14 Girls age group squad of 2016/17!
Anthony Greenhalgh (with David Jennings)