England women take first Euro title for 24 years
“We will be better for Rio,” said England and GB coach Danny Kerry after England took the gold medal in the Unibet EuroHockey Championships for the first time in 24 years.
For captain Kate Richardson-Walsh she was at last on the winners’ podium.
After the girls had mobbed the BBC’s Matthew Pinsent with Mel Clewlow, pitchside at Olympic Park, London, Walsh said: “I wanted my whole career to stand on top of the podium with this team or any team I have ever played in and I wanted to stay in my kit all night and now I can do it."
England’s brave rearguard action against the world and Olympic champions the Netherlands paid off as they kept the Dutch at bay, having to take the brunt of 10 penalty corners, making numerous last-ditch clearances and coming back from two goals down for Sophie Bray and Lily Owsley – maybe with the help of a foot – drawing them level at 2-2 in the last eight minutes to go to a shootout.
Time for Maddie Hinch to follow up her 20-odd saves already. No pressure there then. Hinch was brilliant. While preparing for the shootout, she referred to her little notebook, lying on the pitch, with all details on her opposition and then did the job making three saves for England to win 3-1.
The sell-out crowd went berserk.
"I am renowned as a bit of a geek on penalties,” Hinch said "but as soon as it was the shoot-out it was my turn to step up and I knew we had got this. The gold has been coming a long time but it is the best feeling in the world to do it in front of our home crowd. It's all about confidence in these situations. The race to Rio is on."
Coach Danny Kerry said: "We were battered by the Dutch for three quarters. Then I asked the team if they believed they could do it, as I did. And they said yes. We needed to dig in and fight back. Compared with winning the bronze medal in the London Olympics this was almost as good, especially as its my first gold medal and on home turf."
In the celebrations afterwards, Kerry jokingly asked his players celebrating in the clubhouse to stop the nerve-wracking endings to their games. Hinch led the chorus of replies: “Boring, boring, boring.”
England chief executive Sally Munday told the squad: “Our job is to set the best stage possible. I liken this to a rock concert but you need the stars to perform. Today you were the rock stars.”
This was indeed a fantastic day for the women and made up for the men’s earlier failure to win a medal, leaving Ireland to deservedly to take the bronze medal. But the men had given their all against the holders and Olympic champions Germany in a stunning shootout semi-final and could not reach those heights again.
The weather was not the kindest through the event, but the village, food and trade stalls and the atmosphere in those final stages was as good as anything we have seen in Europe. The press room, organised by Jayne Pearce, with the help of our own Hockey Writers' executive committee members Peter Savage and Ken Wilson, ran the media desk supremely smoothly.
In all this was a superb return to the Olympic Park by England in the first major event to be held at the legacy stadium, with hockey of the highest quality towards the final and a great advert for women’s sport in particular. There had been many arguments about the women taking the prime Sunday time for the final. It is usually reserved for the men. It all paid off. The backroom staff got over their first-night power cut and the volunteer choir singing the national anthems was a great touch of class before the final. The sell-out crowd in that final did the rest in lifting England’s players to that gold medal.
The sponsors will be happy. England will have learned a lot from this event and they will adapt, particularly on ticket selling. The show will go on next year for another world class event when Great Britain’s women compete in the Champions Trophy in June. Tickets for the final are already on sale.
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