Hot on the heels of part one here is part two of The Top of the D’s look back at The Investec London Cup.
Save of the tournament
Emma Gray vs. Netherlands.
As mentioned in part 1, Gray’s first half display against the Netherlands was sublime. You could pick any one of her saves from that match, but the one that sticks in my mind is her penalty corner save from Caia van Maasakker. Van Maasakker’s fierce drag flick was headed for the top left corner, however Gray dived full length to get a strong left glove on it and send it high over the crossbar to safety. It was a wonderful save from a technical perspective and from an aesthetic point of view.
Gripe of the tournament:
Caldas said, “It is a real concern and something needs to be done.” Whilst Commens pointed out “We are thinking one thing and they are thinking something else. They are struggling with the speed of the game and the skill levels. They are doing their best, but unfortunately, it is not good enough.”
Both coaches were well within their rights to make such comments. It is true that some of the pace and the evolution of new skills and techniques such as the behind the back pass, through the legs tackles etc have made the players and umpires poles apart in their interpretation of what is legal and what is not. If hockey is to thrive under the media glare of the Olympics, the umpires need to work closely with the teams to ensure this does not happen at the games themselves. We do not want to see umpires being shown up, but similarly we do not want to see players being punished for developing and evolving the game.
Strange Penalty Corners:
The quality of hockey on display was not in question. With some players still unsure of their selection for this summer’s Olympics there were many who simply could not afford to take their foot off the pedal. However, all that being said, the conversion rate of penalty corners, from all sides, was woeful. Some were experimenting with different drag flickers, some found the waterlogged pitch too difficult to get the ball out quickly on and some, as Great Britain coach, Danny Kerry admitted were refusing to show their best moves before the Olympic tournament. Only Maartje Paumen really got her range right, and even she struggled until the last day. It was a strange feeling seeing penalty corners awarded, but not anticipating a goal, as one would normally do.
The Top of the D’s favourite moment:
Georgie Twigg took a quick free hit from a dangerous position against Ireland. Umpire Lesley Pieterse called her back to take it from the correct place on the pitch, to the obvious, and voiced displeasure of the mostly British media in the stands. Pieterse, standing about 6-7 feet away, gave us all a death stare, followed by a “don’t be so stupid” look followed by a very brief but very authoritative telling off. I felt like a child caught raiding the biscuit tin, and kept my opinions to myself thereafter. I was not the only one. It is a moment that makes me smile just thinking about it.
What have we learned?
Well, we have learned if we didn’t know already, that the Netherlands are a top class outfit. A great goalkeeper (whichever one they pick) a strong defence, a world class drag flicker and a sprinkling of something a bit special means they are the real deal and they proved it here. What I found especially interesting is that they showed they are a good tournament team. By that, I mean, they always did enough, but never more than they needed to. If push came to shove, you feel they have another gear or two, but it is important in a tournament environment, to know when to use those gears.
Australia, despite being in a supposed transitional phase can still turn it on and beat anyone on any day. The energy levels required to sustain their press are phenomenal, which may count against them the longer the tournament goes on, but you have to say, it is a tactic that serves them well. They have a smattering of top class talent, too, with Casey Eastham looking particularly exciting. They will be a threat at the Olympics, no question.
The Germans are a well-organised, well-drilled and clinical side. Yes, that’s right, they are <sigh> very efficient. Their ball pace around the back, plus the comfort in possession that every player demonstrated meant they were impressive. It was interesting to note, like the Netherlands, they appear to have the knack of being a tournament team. Against Great Britain, they struck two goals in as many minutes and then fended the hosts off to hold on for a win. Nothing over the top, nothing out of the ordinary, just a good, solid, display. It is a fine quality to have in a tournament like the Olympics.
As mentioned before, South Africa are to be underestimated at your peril. A team of pace and trickery with a world all star up front is not a soft touch by any stretch of the imagination. If there were one criticism, it would be that they ran out of steam, due to the energy expended by their style of play. Whether they can sustain it in the Olympics is a big question mark, but they are an exciting team.
Great Britain are hard to judge from this tournament. Missing Alex Danson, Crista Cullen, Kate Walsh and Sarah Thomas, a quarter of the Olympic Squad and the majority of the goal scoring/penalty corner options it was always going to be hard to know what to make of them. They didn’t perform as they might have liked, but still created enough chances to win more games than they did. Adam Commens, the Australia Coach, and Max Caldas the Dutch coach have named GB amongst the favourites for the Olympics. In truth, we have learnt little about them from this competition.
Ireland showed some flashes of being a very capable side. The only participant here not going to the Olympics, they used the tournament as way of trying out some new players and seeing where they were against the best in the world. Anna O’Flanagan was excellent, Emma Gray was too and Nicola Daly showed enough skill and industry to suggest she is a very capable player at this level. It is the start of a rebuilding phase for the Irish, but they will take plenty of positives out of this tournament.
So there you have it. Hopefully you managed to get along and watch some games, or catch them on Sky, and if you didn’t I hope the above has covered everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. Personally, I am having hockey withdrawal symptoms. I can’t wait for the Olympics to begin!