In GHC's first ever junior indoor event, we entered the South Region Indoor Finals where we would be up against eleven strong clubs' Under 16 boys teams. With no competitive experience we weren't sure how we would fit in and it was difficult to find time to train in between the Barcelona tour, schools indoor events and everything going on in busy U16s lives. But coach Rob Field was confident and got the very best out of our boys...
Pool A: Ayslebury, Canterbury, Guildford, Sevenoaks, Surbiton, Wycombe
Pool B: East Grinstead, Horsham, Marlow, Reading, Trojans
Pool A - Match 1: Guildford 2 - 0 Wycombe
First up, Wycombe. We started well and earned a PC three minutes in. Raph netted but the ball had hit a defender's shin pad on the way in and a PS was given - Isaac's flick hit the post which was a sign of things to come in this match. Elliot then picked up a nice rebound which went narrowly wide. Two more short corners gone begging and on the next PC Raph hit the post (!). Finally another PC and Freddy had a good shot in for 1-0 - quite a relief to get one after we had struck both posts and the cross-bar more than once each! Another PC strike went wide but Will got a good goal in the last minute from open play for a 2-0 final score. Initiation to competitive indoor hockey well underway and some good lessons learned; the score didn't quite reflect the match (and the goal posts had taken a real beating).
Pool A - Match 2: Guildford 2 - 0 Sevenoaks
Sevenoaks were up next. The boys started well and from a free hit at the back and quick passing forward, Will scored within the first three minutes. We then faced our first defensive short corner of the day with keeper Mark making a very good save. Sevenoaks put up a good fight and we needed to raise our game from the previous match which we did. A second goal would give us a bit of a margin and it came in our second PC from a Freddy flick with six minutes to go. Sevenoaks didn't give up but our defence dealt with nearly everything, only a second shot getting through which went wide.
Pool A - Match 3: Guildford 0 - 1 Surbiton
Now warmed up we faced what would be one of the stronger teams in the tournament, Surbiton, on Court 2. Half a minute in we were awarded a p-flick which...went wide unfortunately. Another half minute later we had a shot saved. After a strong start from us Surbiton started to fight back and earned their own PC; their flick was blocked by Elliot to keep honours even. Another shot on goal followed which was deftly swept away by Mark. The match was end to end and much closer and quicker than the previous two. We showed some excellent individual skills but even moreso some superb teamwork. Surbiton were lucky to be awarded a short corner and scored. With nine minutes to go both sides fought hard - some decisions didn't go our way and we were unable to get either a short corner or close enough to the goal to score. Surbiton were effectively kept at bay from our own goal and the match ended 0-1.
Pool A - Match 4: Guildford 3 - 0 Aylesbury
Back to Court 1, Aylesbury were next. A good team effort two minutes in finished with Will netting for 1-0. Within the next minute Fred made a super pass off the boards up to Will for 2-0. A PC for Ayslebury saw Jake making a beauty of a save and carrying the ball out to clear it up the court. We then had a goal downgraded to a PC: Fred's shot was saved but went high off the keeper's pads leading to another PC. It took two more PCs before Fred flicked one in for 3-0. Aylsebury never gave up and in the remaining three minutes Mark had to make a save and we faced two more defensive PCs including another good save from Mark.
Pool A - Match 1: Guildford 3 - 0 Canterbury
Nine points from four matches was enough to make the semi-finals with still one pool match to play. Canterbury are a good side and were on home ground in their new indoor facility, but their chances of a play-off were finished. Still, they played a good match and the boys were happy to get yet another match experience from the day. Our teamwork shone in this match which resulted in three well worked goals from open play with Elliot, Will and Freddy doing the honours of getting the ball in the goal after good work from Harry, Oli and Isaac. Canterbury had three PCs to our two but our defense proved too strong for them on the day.
Semi-final v Winners of Pool B: Guildford 4 - 3 Trojans
Back on Court 2 where the 'conditions' had not been kind to us for the Surbiton match, we faced a very competitive and fit Trojans team who had had an unbeaten run in Pool B, scoring 19 goals and letting in 6 (we had scored 10 and let in 1 - oh, and hit the post a half a dozen times in the first match). Our defence were feeling confident and they needed to be as this match was more of a test than what we had faced thus far. One minute in Trojans were awarded a PC for a 'lifted' ball in the D (here we go again) which went in for 0-1. A minute later we were awarded our own short which was saved illegally and a PS was given. Freddy did the honours for 1-1.
Two minutes later we went down 1-2 from outfield play and then some great end to end stuff saw Jake take the ball up from the back and just keep going. Not sure why no one stopped him but he realised he had free reign and went all the way to goal in a shifting, winding run cutting through the defence for 2-2. Breathtaking! More PCs were given against for lifted ball in the D but were dealt with and we went into half-time 2-2.
The second half started like the first with a PC against and us going down a goal for 2-3. We then had our own PC which was scored but disallowed. A few minutes later another PC for us and Fred brought the scoreline back to even at 3-3. We needed another goal-of-the-tournament-moment and it came at four minutes left with Raph hitting the left board hard up to Will who put it quickly in to Elliot in the D who scored for 4-3. As much as Jake's individual goal was a beautiful thing to behold, so was this precision teamwork involving half the team.
Jake then picked up a yellow for a bad tackle (yes, Jake - I know!) and we still had three minutes to defend our narrow lead and our place in the final/nationals. Superb defending was the order of the day and the boys didn't disappoint. And when a PC was blown against with one minute to go all spectator hearts were pounding. But the GHC boys remained cool and kept all threats at bay and the score at 4-3. National Finals here we come.
Final: Guildford 1 - 1 Surbiton (Guildford win on penalties, 2-1 with one still to take)
Both teams qualified for the National Finals in January, this match was about who would take home the Regional title. We started brightly and Oli had a good shot just wide at the two minute mark. We then faced a PC which was dealt with in a great save and clearance from Mark and Raph. Up at the Surbiton end Freddy had a flick just wide and Oli also had a super effort on goal just wide.
In our first PC of this game Freddy got good hold of the injection for a quick flick in and the lead at 1-0. Unfortunately a minute later Surbiton fought back hard with a tricky shot through the pads. 1-1. The second half was even, though we were probably showing the better teamwork. Three PCs against were expertly dealt with. Three PCs for, well...let's just say the last two were the end of a very long day and the match finished 1-1.
Penalty shoot-out. Surbiton went first and scored. And then for us it was Freddy for 1-1. Mark made a save. Isaac scored for 2-1. Mark made a save and that was it! Guildford are 2016/17 South Champions.
Many congratulations to the team and in particular to Coach Rob Field who made such a huge difference to the boys' learning and enjoyment on the day. Superb effort all around. Thanks again and again, Rob.
The National Finals take place on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 January at the Aldersley Leisure Centre in Wolverhampton.
Many thanks also to the parents for supporting this - thank you all for getting the boys to training and for the long 13 hour day in Canterbury when at least a couple of them should have been at family events.