A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Hayden Phillips ‘excited’ heading into League Finals weekend

By Lucas Ball

Hayden Phillips is looking forward to an exciting weekend of hockey as our men’s 1s head to Sugden Road (Surbiton HC) for League Finals weekend.

Barry Middleton’s side will face hosts Surbiton at 7pm on Saturday night in their semi-final before another match on Sunday against either Old Georgians or Wimbledon in the final or third/fourth-place play-off.

A win on Saturday night could secure European hockey for Holcombe next season, if Old Georgians beat Wimbledon (5pm pushback).

Play-offs returning has generally been viewed as a positive and a helping factor towards helping grow the game, though Phillips also believes growth starts further down the system.

“It’s pretty exciting, it means you’ve got one weekend of the supposed top teams in the league all coming together and playing each other.

“It’s a great way to test yourself in a more high-pressure situation compared to playing them in the normal league. If it’s just the league, you don’t always know how that game’s going to affect it but with the semi-final, for example, if OGs win theirs and we win, we could be straight through to Europe. It’s a big thing.

“It’s good. It’ll mean there’s a bit more of an atmosphere and it’ll resemble a very big game. To have all four matches there [men’s and women’s] means there’ll be a good number of people around the terraces and pitch so it should be good fun.

“If you’re looking at the whole season in review, we had a couple of weeks where we slipped up and we shouldn’t have done just before Christmas.

“After Christmas, all of our matches have been pretty good. We’ve only lost to OGs and Surbiton who scored a last-minute winner against us so the performances have definitely been there. It’s been good overall.

“When it comes to this weekend, who knows what’s going to happen? Who’s going to step up? Who’s going to play well? There’s so many different things to consider in these one-off games. There’s a bit more preparation, I guess, that goes into scouting someone the week of a game like this maybe compared to others. Little things like a PCD or a PCA just become a little bit tighter.

“That would be good fun, it would be great to get Holcombe back into the EHL and go to wherever that may be, have a little trip out there.

“You’re never going to please everyone. The biggest thing, for me, is developing a good system for clubs to develop their own players and all that comes with it. Making it more broad for everyone starts at more of a grass roots level before you even start to watch people on TV, say.

“You go to your local club and play and that’s where you get most of your learnings from and if you can get support through that system for your juniors, it’s good. The junior programme here is doing really well, particularly with the likes of Joan [Manel Pujol], Sofia [Viarengo] all doing their coaching – it’s awesome. That’s the way the next generation are going to find that same love that we’ve got for the game.”

This season, Phillips has also acted as assistant coach to Nick Bandurak for our women’s 1s, who were unfortunately relegated from the Vitality Premier Division following their 1-0 loss to Buckingham last weekend.

Despite the defeat, there had been signs of clear improvement in the second half of the season and the aim for next season is to bounce back immediately with promotion.

“It’s been a big learning curve, that’s for sure. It’s been a lot of fun, that’d be the first thing but I haven’t always been able to be there for the guys for all the pre-match stuff which is disappointing from my side, having been out on the sidelines and then getting straight into warming up. Little things like that have had an impact.

“And then at the same time on the last weekend, it was a little disappointing not to be able to go up to Buckingham with the girls for the last game but that’s the way it was.

“Everyone at the time was disappointed and when we all went out for dinner on Saturday night after the game, you could feel the mood was a bit down but I think after the initial disappointment, I’ve seen more passion, more hunger to come straight back up. It feels like they want to make amends for what’s happened, the same for myself and the same for Banders, we want to have both teams in the Premier Division and both teams playing well.

“I think it’ll be a massive help, just playing with each other more. Speaking from when I first came here, that first six months to a year is all about finding your feet in the club and learning the way other people play, the style that is played. Myself and Banders were new to it as well so the girls had to get used to the style that we wanted the game to be played in.

“You’re learning that, how your teammates play in that first period and I think it’s probably shown in the last, I guess, five or six weeks where we’ve probably got over half of our points in the league that things were starting to click. Hopefully people see that and come back better for it.

“Banders is very good at the people management side of things, very, very good. I’m not great at articulating myself at times so I’m not always the best at that sort of thing. He’s more people management and has a very good hockey brain, too and I’m probably more technical/tactical, probably tactical with little things to help on and things that he has queries on, he comes to me.

“Of the two of us, I’m the most defensive I guess so I probably take a little bit more of the defensive side with him focusing more on the attacking group. We work around it and have a bit of fun with it.

“The Loughborough game here showed exactly how we want to play. We want to dominate the ball and then create loads of chances. You’re not going to see a team from myself and Banders, being two attacking players, wanting to hold a team up all game and rely on one opportunity, we want to dominate the ball and create those chances and have a bit of fun doing so, and not play a rigid style of hockey. We want that little bit of flair in there.

“The first thing is retaining the girls from the team currently, retaining that core group and then the focus becomes trying to strengthen. That’ll come with its challenges, of course, going down but with Banders at the helm, who knows what might come along? We’ll see what happens.”

Phillips, a New Zealand international, could also be facing up for the Blacksticks against a number of Holcombe teammates later in April in the FIH Pro League, with Great Britain and Australia travelling to New Zealand for a mini-tournament.

“That should be interesting. The Great Britain side gets named next week or the week after and I think we’re roughly the same so we’ll all find out soon enough if we’re going to be playing each other. They can come out to my patch and see how it goes.

“I’ve played Rob [Field] once at the Commonwealth Games. That was quite funny because it was a hell of a game, a 5-5 draw when we were down four or five-nil at half-time. I also played Jose [Maldonado] at the recent World Cup against Chile, that was good fun, a few jokes on the pitch here and there obviously while trying to play.”