By Lucas Ball
Charlotte Daly has explained that then-new head coach Nick Bandurak was the bigggest driving factor behind her return to Holcombe Park. Daly had previously been with the club during Leigh Maasdorp’s time in charge, a period of huge success for the team.
This season, the team are currently sitting second bottom of the bottom six in the Vitality Women’s Premier Division Phase Two, but have renewed hope of putting an end of season run together following last weekend’s superb 4-0 victory away to bottom of the table Buckingham.
Both of this weekend’s opponents, the University of Birmingham and the University of Nottingham, sit just a point above Bandurak’s side and maximum points could give Holcombe a shot at reaching the top-eight for Phase Three of the season.
Daly said: “It has been a big learning curve, this season with Nick coming in as our coach – he’s been great. There’s been a lot of new signings with Phoebe [Steele] the most recent, she’s slotted in really nicely and it’s been quite seamless to be honest. It’s just been a case of everyone figuring out how to play alongside one another and it’s very much a process of learning. Now we’ve got that result last weekend, it’s no longer just about learning, it’s about picking up points now.
“Having people like Harriet [Pittard] and Emma [Bandurak] at the back has just given us that stability that we need, they’re such solid players that always put in great performances but are also able to help the new people coming in. I always think when new people come in, no matter how good they are, it does take time to settle into a team. Having people like Haz and Emma behind you just gives you the freedom to play. We’ve got [Leisa] Randall as well who’s been at the club for ages and she brings that at the forward end of the pitch. It’s great to have that sort of experience in the team to allow other players to play with freedom.
“I think it really helps that they’re both players themselves [Bandurak and Hayden Phillips] and playing at the highest level, they both get it in terms of not only the tactics – that’s a given – but also what it’s like to be a player. Tactically, they’re very advanced and come up with a lot of things, thinking about a lot of things in a way that we haven’t been able to think about it or give us a different perspective.
“Them playing at the highest level, they pick up things themselves at training and then filter that down to us. They have a great grasp of what it’s like for us to be playing in the Premier Division but also managing full-time jobs and I think they’re both really good at managing that, giving you the help and support you need to be able to give your best performance on a Saturday.
“They’re a real pivotal point of this Holcombe team and although we may not necessarily be where we want to be points-wise at the moment, this is definitely a long-term journey and I think with those two steering the ship, this Holcombe team will do really well and go back to the level that the club had previously set.
“I really enjoyed my time at Holcombe beforehand. I’ve always said that I want to find my club and stay there forever and that’s now Holcombe for me. I spoke with Nick a lot over the summer about him coming in as coach and he was the major selling point for me. He’s obviously doing amazing things in his own career but also is a really great coach. The development of the team under him was something I couldn’t say no to.”
Four Premier Division matches take place at Holcombe Park in a bumper weekend of action, with the men’s team also in action against Reading and Old Georgians. For Daly and co, it will be the first time the team have played a competitive match at home since November 19th.
“We’re really looking forward to it, it’s great that both matches are at home, we love playing at home and we have this thing of setting our home pitch as a bit of a fortress, so nobody comes to us and has an easy ride. I think that’s going to help us a lot this weekend.
“This weekend is crucial, we need to win both games and that’s what we’re setting out to do. If we can manage to do that, that changes the entire scope of our season and where we are in the table. It’s a huge weekend, we’ve had some really good training this week, a really good session on Wednesday going into the game off the back of a win last weekend, a very convincing win with a very good performance so I think we’re all in a good headspace going into it and looking forward to it. Hopefully we’ll be coming out with two big victories.
“It never ceases to surprise me the amount of people that come out to watch to support. We are really grateful for that and it does make a difference having that support and the crowd for us. I can’t wait for it.”
Finishing in the top-two of the bottom six would give Holcombe a shot at reaching the end of season play-offs, which will be held at Sugden Road, home of Surbiton. Much debate has been had surrounding the changes in league structure this season, with Daly explaining there are still some negatives, despite the potential for anyone in the top-eight to win the play-offs.
“Personally, I’m not really a fan of the new league structure, I think it takes away one of the aspects of the Premier Division that everyone loves so much, in that you could have had a bottom team go to play against Surbiton away and pull off an amazing result that nobody saw coming. I think that in breaking it into these two sections it unfortunately takes that aspect away.
“For us, we played two winter pre-season games against East Grinstead and Surbiton and we won both of them and played really well. I think you play even better when you’re faced with an even bigger task like that and I think it’s a little bit disappointing that we’re not getting that opportunity again in this half of the season. You make the best of the situation and we’ve just got to go to prove that next season we belong in that top six.
“The top-eight in Phase Three is a real bonus because there’s still that motivation and drive. Of course, when you’re playing in that bottom six, you’re fighting against relegation as such but there should also be a positive incentive – this is and it means there’s an opportunity to go to play-offs.
“For all we know, someone from the bottom six could end up winning the whole thing. I’m glad that they’ve kept that aspect and I think it would have been a real shame to get rid of that. We’ve spoken about it from the get-go that, at the end of the day, there’s still an opportunity to get play-offs. It may not necessarily be attainable this season but the door is open and a couple of good results and who knows?
“I’m so glad play-offs are back, it’s such a great weekend and always been really fun to be a part of. It was a shame to not have them for a while, it just makes more of an occasion of winning the Premier Division. I’m really glad it’s moved back to a club.
“Before I went to university, I played for Reading and we hosted a play-offs weekend, it was probably one of the best weekends I’ve ever been involved in. Every single member of the club turned up whether they were supporting their team or just wanted to watch good hockey, it was fantastic. I think it’s more achievable to get more people down to a club than it is Lee Valley and it also fills out much quicker at a club than there. I think it’s really positive it’ll be hosted at Surbiton – they put on a great event, they always have a great turnout as well so I think it’ll be really good.”
Daly, like many other current players, is keen to help grow the game but understands there are no easy answers. Instead, she believes the focus for now needs to be on increasing the number of spectators whether that be in attending matches or through more matches being made available to watch live.
“Personally, my opinion is to be able to grow a sport you need more eyeballs on it. England Hockey have tried to help with that, putting double-header weekends on is always great. It’s always good when you have the men and women playing on the same afternoon or evening, that always helps with bringing more spectators down because they’re getting ‘two for the price of one’ as such. I think lots more coverage on social media channels helps a lot whether that be videographers coming to games and producing content or other methods.
“Ultimately, it needs to push towards getting more live games shown. I know the likes of East Grinstead and Beeston do, so if we can look to maybe get some support from England Hockey to make that more accessible for all clubs to get games out there and live, that would increase the number of eyeballs. The more people that are interested in watching, the more the sport would be pushed and you might end up finding that hockey on TV is a regular thing but the funding needs to be there.
“I haven’t looked into the financial situation enough to have a great opinion on exactly where that needs to go but it’s clear to see that funding is needed to be able to grow a sport. Take women’s rugby for example, that’s come on leaps and bounds and a lot of the Premier 15s players are now on proper contracts and getting funding. It’s an interesting debate and one that should carry on because that’s the only way it’s going to move forward.”