A brilliant day, a brilliant result. Ryde Hunters Hill District Hockey Club are the Sydney Women’s Hockey League ML1 champions for the very first time after an exhilarating 5-2 victory over Gordon North Sydney.
This is a premiership of some quality, significant for its historicity, and also for the road travelled after beating Sydney University in 1v1s in minor semi-final extra time, Moorebank in the last two minutes of the preliminary final and then the minor premiers in the granny.
Panthers roar in unexpected ways (or so they say) and the opening of the match witnessed one of more brilliant attacking offensives ever witnessed in Sydney women’s hockey. After 20 minutes it was 4-0 and the Ryde faithful were caught in a suspended breath of one-part excitement, one-part anticipation, one-part words unknown.
That opening bears further testimony. Abby Wilson, three goal hero, signalled her intent and attacking prowess in the first two minutes, with a clinical finish, an effort duplicated three minutes later. The third goal owed its lineage to some great transition play, followed by the fantastic positioning and quick reflexes of Kiona Nicholl, beautifully complemented by Dani Colubriale’s finish. Kendall Steel decisively stamped Ryde’s authority on the first half, ensuring that the team effort to keep Gordon under pressure was convertedwith a fourth goal.
Throughout this period, we bore witness to some wondrously incisive passing by Phoebe Bloink Hollier and the majesty of Mikki “Chops” Patterson’s movement with the ball, an artistry evident throughout the match. After the flurry of goal scoring, a period of consolidation followed with Boudine van der Pois’ wonderful poise and control, instrumental to ensuring that hearts and minds remained focused, while Morgan Blamey’s defensive read and acceleration out of the circle, brilliantly defused a particularly tense moment.
To the second half and Gordon, as anticipated, emerged strongly. A short corner deflection followed by a defensive hiccup brought the score to 4-2.
Enter the Ryde crowd, highly evident throughout the stadium but standing as one on the eastern hill. There were Ryde babies, Ryde dogs, Ryde seniors, Ryde juniors, Ryde families and Ryde spirit and they intervened in the style of the colosseum, roaring their encouragement. And the team responded magnificently. Some Ellen Campey wizardry along the back line delivered Abby Wilson her third goal.
Equally important was Sarah Wynn Taylor’s defensive short corner heroics, Georgia Dwyer’s 30 metre chase back and reverse stick tackle, and Hannah Kable’s athleticism in diminishing any midfield momentum that may have fallen to Gordon.
As the match progressed, so too the opportunities that arise with additional time and space. Andrea Gillard intercepted the ball, on three occasions in a critical three-minute period, while Lizzy Maister picked the ball from a Gordon striker’s pocket with beautiful sleight of hand.
As goalkeeper, Zoe Newman’s positioning was perfect, executing clearances with seamless balance and poise; duly recognised when Zoe was replaced with three minutes to go by Shelly Pole – a great and well-deserved ovation all round.
And to the final seconds – and the roar started – ooh aah Panther, ooh aah Panther, ooh aahPanther – spirits awakened – ghosts extinguished – and this premiership just felt so right, celebrated with such happiness and crowned by captain Kiona Nicholl and the team lifting the cup and sharing the team song with an adoring crowd.
A forever memorable team performance underlined by purpose and panache.
So much to acknowledge with efforts impossible to quantify. As coach, Tim Collier’s vision with attention to and resourcing of this team operates as a highly impressive benchmark; coupled with Gina Rees’ vitality and insight, Larry McIntosh’s acumen and support, and Jess Dobbin’s and Jess Cover’s managerial oversight, this was a heady combination.
And there is club wide and thoughtful leadership to acknowledge, through Cecilia Blamey’s calm stewardship as Women’s President and Glen Castensen as President (although Glen spent a good part of the day trying to get on the match card).
And while this is a title that rightfully belongs to the 2017 ML1 team and their coaches, there is a heritage to acknowledge – past battles of relegation, promotion, resourcing and recognition. The family names of Dawson, Cullen, Goosakoff, McKay, Ramsay, Gunner and Campey come to mind, as too many players of distinguished service who chased the ML1 dream.
For now, let us come together and celebrate. This is a title for the whole club to cherish, to hold to our hearts and sing out loud – an achievement to engender further club success and harmony.
Ooh aah Panther, ooh aah Panther – 2017 ML1 Champions – the Olympic stadium and our Club will forever hold this memory. Sundays will never quite feel the same again!
Thanks to Club friend Les Simpson for his photographs and massive thanks to Club stalwart Meg Smith for penning this wonderful piece.