A wise man once told me “the best way to learn international hockey is to play it.” Having watched Danny Kerry’s new-look team take on Argentina and the Netherlands this past weekend, those words came back into my mind for the first time in years.
I sat amongst the rest of the crowd rather than the media for the first time in a long while and was surprised at the number of comments around me about the team and how they were “failing” to win as they were expected to. There seemed to be a feeling amongst some that with those titles under their belts the team should be crushing all before them. Is this really what are we expecting from Danny Kerry’s side? Sure, England are the European Champions and Great Britain are the Olympic Champions but the squad that took to the field this past weekend contained just nine of the players who won the Olympics and 10 of the European Champions, out of a squad of 20.
Four of that number have a tally of caps in single figures; Jo Hunter has 10 caps, whilst Grace Balsdon, aged just 24 has 19 caps to her name. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “but they’re only young” excuse, as Argentina show time and time again, youth is not a barrier to talent. The point I am making is that this squad is in a transitional phase and you’d have to say this weekend will have been a valuable experience for Danny Kerry’s side.
Balsdon, a defender by trade will likely not have played against players with the guile and the technical skills of Las Leonas. Likewise, I suspect she will have not experienced a physical, high intensity press such as the one the South Americans employ. It will have been an eye-opener for the Canterbury defender but she will be better for the experience. Indeed Balsdon’s display against the Dutch looked already more assured than that of the previous day’s performance.
Hunter showed flashes of the skills and form that have made her a real threat for Surbiton and with a bit more experience and confidence her pace and eye for goal will surely become a real asset to Danny Kerry’s team. Hannah Martin, who netted her first senior international goal on Saturday showed some signs of real creativity and skill which, under the watchful eye of Kerry will soon be channelled into the right areas and the right moments. Emily Defroand seemed to grow in confidence with every minute against the Dutch, stepping in front of her marker and winning a lot of possession whilst Anna Toman looked solid and dependable and quietly effective.
— Emily Defroand (@EmilyDefroand) June 12, 2017
The group of players Danny Kerry used to win the two titles were just the right blend of youth and experience, but it takes time to find that blend and really build the team unit. The European Championships this summer may come just a little too soon for his current group, but the Head Coach’s ability to reinvent his teams time after time and the steep learning curve his group are currently on mean there is reason for optimism with this talented, yet raw set of players.
They will learn with every training session and every game and they will improve with every training session and every game. Patience is what is required to aid these players on this journey. After all, the best way to learn the international game, is to play it. Wise words.
Photos courtesy of England Hockey/Simon Parker.