Spring had most definitely sprung as we arrived at the club to lay out the doughnuts, calm the nerves and festoon our team room with photos of tournaments past and exhortations to excellence. A few were even heard to mutter about the lack of suntan lotion in the bag…
You could tell it was near to the end of the season, and therefore important games lay ahead – the Boys Under 14 had to beat both Wycombe and Wimbledon to ensure they went through the England Hockey Regional Area finals to the National Finals in 6 weeks' time. This age group had narrowly lost out 2 years ago, coming third, and therefore 1 position off the pace in the Under 12 Regionals: could they haul themselves over the line this time?
Guildford v Wycombe: Warm-up and First Half
We started with an invigorating team talk, including a great video montage from last December’s Barcelona tournament and an inspiring message from Gary Boucher, GHC Mens’ 1st team Coach. After a thorough warm-up, the boys started the first game against Wycombe in full flow, displaying great energy in the press and real speed in their passing play.
The opposition won the first short corner after some good direct play but saw little else of our D in the rest of the half. We quickly gained a few D entries and shots on targets as we passed the ball around the opposition, with strong moves down the right hand flank between Sam G and Josh T.
Josh T was passing the ball beautifully and giving his left back no chance to win the ball back, when a lovely 1-2 with “Glassy” split the opposition and went to Jack T on the P spot, as usual in the right place at the right time, who soundly slapped the ball into the goal.
A short corner soon after was then chipped into the goal calmly by Scott W after a somewhat fortunate 1-2 (off the runner’s stick rather than our forward) from the top of the D. 2-0 and the boys’ confidence was sky high.
We had a number of great, flowing attacks as Sam R and Scott W bossed the centre of the pitch, distributing quickly out to the flanks for Ben A, Glassy and Ben G to work the ball forwards to Jack T, Ollie de G W and Sammy D. However, Wycombe's large keeper had an excellent game, with numerous, superb saves and quickly filling the space to cut out our angles.
Jack T made a beautiful run into the D and did a trademark tomahawk reverse stick bullet shot which was launched towards the top right corner, only for the keeper to somehow bat it out to the side. The half finished 2-0 and we’d had 8 D entries, a thoroughly satisfying start to the tournament.
Guildford v Wycombe: Second Half
The second half continued in the same attacking vein from us, Sammy D bagging a lovely goal after Jack T laid the ball off to him nicely in the D. The opposition still challenged well, playing strong, central balls and almost catching us on the break, but Ollie B posted up in front of his attacker to steal the ball, while Cole P, Freddie F and Barney B maintained great marking discipline and flat stick tackling.
We had 4 short corners in the half, and after 3 failures the boys adapted well, changing the routine. Jack took the ball at the top of the D, the opposition understandably halted in expectation of another rocket shot from him, so Jack had the time to slap the ball to Sam R waiting in front of the keeper for a lovely deflection goal and a 4-0 lead.
In the dying minutes, the opposition caught us on the break and got behind our defence. Their centre forward brushed off a few of our tackles and managed to get a goal back, but the game soon finished. The boys departed the pitch with confidence high after a great display of fast, attacking hockey and a 4-1 victory.
Guildford v Wimbledon: Warm-up and First Half
We knew the second match against Wimbledon was going to be a tough affair, as they had soundly beaten us 10-5 only 2 weeks before. However, on that day our marking had been poor and our distribution slow, and confidence was raised by watching Wimbledon fade in the second half in their game vs Wycombe, beating them 3-2: this meant even a draw would see us through on goal difference, although we didn’t really make that too clear to the boys beforehand!
We started strong again after a good warm up. Indeed, we pressed Wimbledon so hard from their push back that they panicked and passed the ball out the sideline. Our energy levels were high and our ball speed was strong. However, Wimbledon made good use of the space and some very skilful players caused us some problems; they gained a few short corners, from which they managed to scramble a goal in. 1-0 down, how would we respond?
We stuck to the game-plan, kept our marking Velcro tight and with Scott W linking up well again with Sam R and Ben A, we properly imposed ourselves on the game. We made 3 strong D entries without quite scoring, but on the 4th we won a short corner and from a scramble position, Scott W chipped the ball past the keeper and we were level.
Confidence shot even higher and the fast pace of Sammy D, Ollie de G W and Jack T in our press restricted Wimbledon’s options. Then near the end of the half, Jack T forced a turnover from another press near the D, calmly made space for himself and smashed his reverse stick shot into the bottom left corner. 2-1 at half time was well deserved and during the half time talk the coaches could see the boys were eager for more.
Guildford v Wimbledon: Second Half
In the second half we almost doubled the number of D entries (to 7) as the boys really played superbly. The defenders gave the opposition little space, with Barney B frequently posting up to steal the ball, Freddie sticking to his man like glue and Ollie B, tying up their extremely talented centre forward with his man marking.
This enabled Sam R to roam forward more, but not too much this time, and create overloads with Glassy, Gibbo and Ben A. Ben A used some space superbly, taking a great lateral run across the top of the D, picking out Jack T in the middle with a lovely pop pass.
Jack T looked up, did a reverse stick flick to the post where Ollie de G W nicely deflected it into goal. Quality hockey, 3-1.
The fourth from Ollie again came not soon after, when Jack T quickly passed it to him in the D. Ollie was closely marked but moved nicely off the line to give himself some space, and quickly reverse hit it into the corner of the goal. At 4-1 up we eased off the intensity a little and Wimbledon fought back hard, but time was running out. They scored a nice flicked goal from their only shortie of the half to bring the game to 4-2.
But the dedication of our boys to play for each other was shown by an amazing diving save off the line by Gibbo, somehow scooping the ball around the post. The whistle blew, we were through to the Nationals!
The huge grins on their faces after the game and the great camaraderie that was displayed throughout the day are the memories that will remain with me. We’ve a great team of coaches and a wonderful assistant who’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching these marvellous young men develop over the many years that we’ve been with them at Guildford, and we can’t wait to see what they will do in 6 weeks' time and in the years ahead!