The GU14 Sharks have had a fantastic season this year – the squad of 17 (all named in the flier that was circulating on social media yesterday) playing some lovely hockey and really gelling as a team. With this Final vs Merton HC at Fortress TD, in the sunshine and in front of a vociferous crowd of supporters (aided by JJ on the megaphone), could they take the silverware and end the season in style?
Absolutely they could…although not without a fairly nerve wracking last 5-10 minutes of end to end hockey with OCs refusing to just sit back, park the bus and defend their first half 1-0 lead. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The girls – having not played any matches since the end of the Juniors season some 3 weeks ago – had the benefit of coaching inputs not just from me but also assistance in the form of a “slightly” more technical nature from Adam Ward; keen to do all he could to help the girls. With a squad of 16 (one of the girls being unable to persuade her parents to end the family holiday early) we had a strong bench of 5 to rotate but we needed the girls to settle into the game first, which we did with a strong start.
Although it felt like we were dominating much of the play in the first half, Merton didn’t make it easy for us and it wasn’t until a goal from Jess about 15 minutes in that we had anything to show for all of the hard work. Merton also worked hard on the break with our midfielders and defenders having to be on their game and to make sure they didn’t get caught pressing too high – it seems none of our back 4 suffer from vertigo!
At half time it remained 1-0 with the game finely balanced, but Adam and I still felt we were the stronger team and just needed to score next to stretch the lead. However, Merton clearly had also decided they needed to score next, so much of the first half was end to end play, with both teams pushing for that elusive goal. Annabel made a number of strong saves to keep Merton out and she seemed to remain calm – the same could not be said for the supporters or the coaches – when two of our defenders decided (moments before the final whistle) to play keep the ball by passing backwards and forwards in our D, across our goal and surrounded by Merton forwards. I feel pretty confident that wasn’t the focus of Adam’s work with the back 4 in the warmup! Perhaps they just wanted to test my nerves…
Fortunately the girls then decided it made more sense to play the ball in the Merton half of the pitch with the next passage of play being rewarded by a short corner. Adam showed his inner Jose Mourinho at this point, wanting only a skeleton crew to attack the short corner with the remainder of the team on the half way line to guard against any possible Merton break out. We negotiated a compromise and, with what proved to be the final passage of play, Ellie slotted home a goal to give the girls an unassailable, 2-0 win. I have never been so pleased to hear a final whistle seconds later !
It was a great game, played in a really good, competitive spirit and Merton were worthy runners-up. In the absence of any medals to award the girls with (they are in the post, I’m assured) we gave the captains each a trophy of their choice from the OCs extensive trophy cabinet to pose for with their teams after the match. Of such are memories made.
A massive thank you to all of the supporters who came down to cheer the girls on, to the parents of the girls in the squad (who have been so supportive all season) and to Adam for his coaching assistance on the day plus Closey for umpiring. The main thanks, though. must go to the girls – they have been brilliant to work with this season and have improved so much not just as individuals but also as a team. I was quite choked at the end and am already looking forward to the squad being reunited as U16s in two years.