Coach Vicky Joel believes Sheffield Hallam’s hockey stars have got to grips with life in the top flight, ahead of their bid for survival in 2014.
Hallam currently sit bottom of the NOW: Pensions Men’s Hockey League Premier Division table, with just one victory, following their promotion last season.
But Joel, who led Hallam to the England Hockey League Conference North title for the first time in their history, insists they have the required quality to survive.
“The learning that has taken place in the first half of this season will show in 2014,” she told the Telegraph.
“We have got over the inevitable star-struck feelings of having Olympians and current GB players visit Abbeydale Park.
“I doubt we have shaken the ‘new-boys’ name tag that we brought with us into the league, but we have added a grit that makes teams work hard against us.
“With the injuries we have had, opportunities have emerged for others to push through into the squad and we have given debuts to several players who had not played National League hockey before, let alone Premier Division.
“We have a tough task ahead in 2014, but we know that the New Year will see an honest and committed squad which contains the talent and ability to stay in this division.”
The year started with two sets of international recognition for Hallam players. In January, Brendan Creed and Phil Roper - then a Hallam star - were selected to represent Great Britain in the Youth Olympics, and a month later Jamie Cachia and Mike Shaw were invited to attend a senior Great Britain assessment.
In March, Sheffield Hallam’s University side reached their first ever BUCS final against Birmingham Uni, and the national league team beat Preston and Durham Uni on the last day of a snow-delayed season to win the England Hockey League Conference North for the first time in the club’s history.
“It was a fortnight we will probably never see again,” Joel added.
“Everything we touched turned to trophies and gold.”
Hallam then travelled to Cannock in April, to play National Premier side Southgate in the first of three promotion play-off games.
“We knew little about Southgate, but we approached the game in our usual way,” Joel added.
“It took us ten minutes to get used to their relentless pace, another ten minutes to sort out the squabbling and then the game was filled with quality defending and fearless attacking hockey.”
Hallam won 3-0 and then drew with Cardiff, meaning they only had to avoid a four-goal defeat in their final match against Wimbledon.
“At 2-0 down, Mike Shaw fired home a penalty corner to all but ensure we would go up,” Joel remembered.
“It was an insane day to top off an insane month. It was the first season with myself as coach and Alex Bailey as captain, and we won everything there was to win.”
But Hallam were rocked soon after their promotion, with the loss of Roper to Wimbledon.
Rhys Gowman, Tom Hudson and Duncan Longson also departed, with Scots William Marshall and Gavin Byers coming in.
David Bond, Liam Ansell and Arjan Drayton-Chana also joined Hallam, but national commitments meant that the trio didn’t meet each other until the week before Hallam’s first game.
“Some of the lads were even shaking hands for the first time, on the day of the East Grinstead game!” Joel laughs.
Brendan Creed, David Goodfield and Arjan Drayton-Chana will return from England U21 duty at the Junior World Cup, and Joel added: “We cannot wait to have them back.
“My highlight of the second half of the season was 16-year-old local lad Tom Sorsby making his debut against Surbiton, before scoring his first ever National League goal, past current GB ‘keeper George Pinner, against reigning champions Beeston.
“Tom was then selected for U18 assessment and, like all our lads, we are really proud of him.”
n Hallam are bidding to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Reasearch by producing a 2014 ‘sticks out’ calendar. For more information, visit the club’s website at www.sheffieldhc.co.uk.