The cup run for Trojans had been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. Trips to London to play Hampstead and Westminster, to Kent to play HC Knole Park before a very welcome, semi-final home fixture against Bury St Edmunds all in the space of a few weeks, had been challenging. All the opposition had been new to the team and the girls embraced the opportunity to play against teams that they did not know. Throughout these games, the girls worked hard, grew in self-belief and began to bond, as a well-rounded progressive team. Even when there were 3 isolations within the team prior to the Semi-Final the girls were not rocked, they welcomed new players and got on with the job. Trojans girls had had 3 victories under their belt by the time they reached the final, and each win was 4-1 so confidence was high, they knew they could score and their defence was tight.
Happily knowing whatever happened the girls were National Finalists the team headed off to Nottingham Hockey Centre on Saturday 3rd July 2021.
Despite the forecast of heavy rain as well as thunder and lightning, the weather turned out to be hot and sunny. Trojans arrived in good time and prepared well for the forthcoming game against Taunton Vale. The 15 min warm-up time on the pitch was a little shorter than the girls were used to, but they showed they knew what they were doing and set about being ready physically and mentally for the whistle.
The game started well and Trojans were definitely on the front foot. Pressing forward as they had been doing in many of the other games they forced early saves from the Taunton goalkeeper. The pressure mounted on the Taunton Vale defence and this caused the opposition to make silly mistakes resulting in Vale receiving an early green card. When the Vale team were back up to a full compliment they seemed to pull themselves together. T’s were subject to some defensive pressure and Maddie Hilditch had to make a crucial save on the line to prevent a sure goal. For a period of 10 mins, T’s soaked up the pressure and defended well, but they were just not able to get the ball away, Vale kept coming. With 27 mins of the first half gone Vale managed to break the deadlock and scored a soft goal. Trojans regrouped, lifted themselves up and dug deep putting in some good counter-attacking moves before the whistle went for halftime. Overall the half was pretty even with both teams playing attacking hockey. Vale had managed 16 circle penetrations and Trojans 13, both teams had earned 5 penalty corners.
The halftime team talk was all about what the team could do to get back in this game whilst taking on as much fluid as possible. They were adamant that this game was still there for winning. They recognised far they had come and how well they had done to get this far, but they were not content with the score and committed to focusing on their Trojans 3 T’s – Trust, Togetherness and Talking.
With a renewed belief in their own ability and a determination to make sure that they came away from this game having known that they had done everything possible to get a positive outcome, T’s took to the pitch.
It’s a cliché to say it was a game of 2 halves but oh my goodness these girls turned this game around. Wave after wave they attacked the Vale circle. The movement off the ball was purposeful, the interlinking play by the midfield drove the game deep into the Vale half and stretched the opposition. The game was moving so much faster than the first half, even the umpire took a momentary sit down (he fell over!).
During the second half, there were 22 circle penetrations by Trojans compared to just 3 from Vale showing just how hard the girls pushed forward to find a way to score.
Despite all the pressure and 13 shots in this half, with 3 minutes to go, Trojans were still 1-0 down. It was time to go big or go home!
Trojans sacrificed their goalkeeper and added another attacking player into the midfield. Vale was momentarily stunned and recognising this T’s mounted another concerted push towards the Vale circle. T’s won a penalty corner.
Could this be it? Could the 4th penalty corner of the half bring a very well deserved goal to tie the game in the final 2 minutes?
The ball was injected with pace and precision, cleanly stopped before it was slipped left to Nyah Clark who launched the ball high towards the goal.
The ball struck an unlucky defender on the shoulder, rolled down her body, into the goal. As they say, the crowd went wild. There was less than 2 minutes to go but wait, unbelievably the umpire was signalling a Penalty Stroke rather than the goal. There was an audible sigh from the crowd and a bigger one from the T’s coaching bench.
This was something that had not been planned, not discussed, the team had not had conversations about who would step up to take strokes at any point during the whole cup run.
As the coaches desperately looked at each other trying to come to a decision about who should step up to take this high-pressure last-minute stroke, the amazing self-organising girls sorted it out between themselves, Charlotte Toms headed to the penalty spot.
The ball was placed on the spot, the goalkeeper and striker were ready, the Umpire blew his whistle and Charlotte fired the ball top left to leave the goalkeeper with no chance at all. Cheers rang around the pitch, parents and spectators alike enjoying the late twist in the game, however Trojans girls quickly recognised that there was still a job to be done.
The ball was sent back to the middle, the girls reset, there was still time to win this! As the coaches bellowed at the Umpire and Technical Official that they wanted to get their Goalkeeper back on the pitch, Trojans girls mounted two more attacks on goal. Sadly time ran out and at full time the scores were drawn 1-1 it goes to a shootout!
The girls assembled quickly to be told what was to happen next. 5 girls would be needed to take on the Vale goalkeeper one by one, to score in 8 seconds or less. Of course, our own goalkeeper Isi Murphy would need to do all she could to keep the Vale girls from scoring as well. Trojans won the toss and elected to attack the goal first, continuing with the same confidence they showed in the second half of the game. Amy Cradden, Esme Hills, Gracie Coleman, Nyah Clark and Charlotte Mould were the players that volunteered and each of them took their turn to face the Vale keeper. There was drama after the 2nd shootout as the ball squeezed past Isi into the goal but she had done enough and delayed the shot long enough so it did not cross the line before the 8 seconds had elapsed. Still 0-0 in the Shootout.
It took until the 4th Vale player for the deadlock to be broken, there was some truly amazing goalkeeping from both sides to keep the ball out of the net. 0-1 down.
Charlotte Mould stepped up to take Trojan's final shootout knowing that scoring this goal was essential to remain in the game.
Captain Charlotte moved into the circle and took the goalkeeper one way then the other before slotting the ball home with ease, 1-1 with 1 to go!
Now it was all down to Isi, could she keep out the next shot to take the game to sudden death?
After making sure that she was fully aware of what needed to be done Isi marched with confidence into the goal. I am sure that Isi grew by at least a foot as the Vale player eyed her in the goal waiting for the umpire whistle to signal the start of time. Isi closed down the Vale player quickly and kicked the ball right out of the area. We go again!!!!
Sudden death shootout meant that the order of players could be changed and the team that attacked first would now become the first defenders. All the penalty takers agreed that they were ready to go again which showed fantastic bravery but first it was back to Isi.
Once again she checked what she needed to, it was made very clear that this would be a good one to save. Once again Isi made sure that her goal was not breached keeping the frustrated Vale player at bay for the full 8 seconds, twisting, turning, crawling but ultimately defending her goal. Amazing!
A shuffle in the order of shootout takers saw Captain Charlotte take to the quarter line mark. The whistle was sounded by the Umpire and Charlotte moved swiftly with confidence towards the goal. Proving what a talented player she is she chose to draw the Goalkeeper to the other side of her goal this time, before once again slotting a lifted ball home.
That was it! Sudden death was done and the deadlock was broken.
Trojans were winners!!!
An incredible show of grit and determination. For any team to turn around a game with 2 minutes remaining is amazing, but to do it in the England Hockey National Finals is truly remarkable. It was an unforgettable game with a performance that every single player should be proud of. They played as a team and became champions. Continue to shine like the stars that you are.
So Trojans Girls U18 are National Plate Champions 2021 congratulations to all those who played a part in this tremendous cup run.
Roll of honour – Isi Murphy, Marianne Brabazon, Charlotte Mould (c), Maddie Hilditch, Alice Appleton, Charlotte Toms, Celia Brabazon, Gracie Coleman (vc), Esme Hills, Issy Chapman, Indi Sherry, Nyah Clark, Amy Cradden, Abi Reid.
Not forgetting Tessa Tomson, Lizzie Beardsall who both played their part in the run-up to the final.