Hockey: Roche happy to see Hampstead & Westminster rewarded
PUBLISHED: 13:30 26 April 2019
Mark Clews 2011
Hampstead & Westminster captain Toby Roche had the proud honour of lifting the trophy after his side were crowned champions at Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre.
And he admitted their League Finals weekend successes against semi-final opponents Beeston and defending champions Surbiton in the decider felt pretty sweet, after the agony of a penalty shoot-out defeat 12 months earlier.
Roche, the club's longest-serving captain since the Second World War, said: “We had a few tough games during the season. It was mainly a two-horse race, but Surbiton at home in the penultimate game of the season was crucial and we lost 2-0.
“It was frustrating as we had a lot of the play. They scored a good goal and caught us with a sucker punch.
“We had a good defence all season and conceded very few goals and always felt we were in the hunt for the title and play-offs.
“We had our highest points tally ever as a club and against Surbiton were the only points we dropped at home. We built a stellar defence and had a good away record.”
Hampstead conceded just 21 goals in 18 league matches on their way to finishing as runners-up and were breached just twice at the League Finals.
And Roche paid tribute to young goalie Toby Reynolds-Cotterill, who joined the club last summer, and the team's disciplined displays under the guidance of influential player-coach Kwan Browne, adding: “You can't win anything without a stellar goalie.
“Toby did very well. Jamie Legg was superb for us last year, but Toby made two or three crucial saves in the final. I think Alan Forsyth, the league's player of the year, thought he'd scored. It was an outstanding stick save and so crucial.
“Beeston and Surbiton are the only teams to play a zonal defence which is different to play against. It's usually man on man defence, so it's a different mindset to keep disciplined with the tactics Kwan gives us.
“It asks different questions of you and I think it was a good thing we played both of them towards the end of the season. It was pleasing to get over the line in our fashion, being aggressive and on the front foot, not playing on the counter-attack.”
Coming out on top in the last match of the campaign – the club's 125th anniversary season, no less – was particularly special after falling just short of their other targets.
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And Roche is already thinking about next steps and leading Hampstead into the unknown at the European Club Championships for the first time.
“We set a few targets this season. Indoors, we got to the semi-finals but didn't get over the line, we fell in the penultimate game in the league, but this was the top of the list and we're pretty happy with it,” he added.
“Now the planning starts for next season. We will have a target on our back as the number one team and we've got Europe, where we want to give a good account of ourselves.
“It's the premier club competition in the world. It gets the most media coverage, is on proper TV, and it's a huge boost for the club.
“A few have gone there in the past elsewhere, but it's a real incentive for us to play in it and prepare for it. Kwan always gets people wanting to play for him and there will be even more now.”
Special praise was reserved for the 41-year-old Browne, who has led Hampstead to the League Finals for three successive years and was named man of the match in their memorable final win over Surbiton. Roche was certainly very clear about the impact the GB assistant coach has had on Hampstead.
He added: “It's frightening. He devotes every hour to it. Every session is meticulously planned.
“He watches video of us and our opposition. It's difficult to put into words what he has done, in terms of coaching and the club mindset and expectations of how and what players need to put in to get us to the top.
“When we were trying to fight off relegation, the mindset was not there. He has revolutionised expectations.”
But Hampstead's 2018/19 success story is not only about the men, with the women winning the East Conference title and gaining promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs under the watchful eyes of Olympic gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh and Irish international Sarah Kelleher.
Roche concluded: “It's phenomenal that the women are at the top table now as well. I'm sure they will kick on as well.
“They're in a cup final and have already beaten two or three Premier sides. They're not just a good Conference team, they will do well in the Premier anyway.
“I think we would've taken this at the start of the season.”