Hockey Writers’ Youth awards go to high-flyers

Andy Bull and Harry Martin, players now establishing their positions in the senior international squads, and Alice Sharp, who also won the Award in 2008, are the 2010 winners of the Higgins Group UK Youth Hockey Awards.

Rising star: Andy Bull. Picture by Peter Luck

We should not be surprised to see all three of these young players gracing the Great Britain teams at the 2012 London Olympics, the Hockey Writers’ Club said in announcing the award-winners.

Bull (GB, England and Loughborough Students) and Martin (GB, England and Old Loughtonians) were impossible to separate for the male award made by the Hockey Writers’ Club and sponsored by the Higgins Group plc, and were declared joint winners – the first time the prize has been shared in its seven-year history.

The “exceptional quality” of the candidates could not be split by the judging panel which was faced with two 18-year-olds who are so highly rated by GB/England head coach Jason Lee that they earned their Great Britain caps in the Four Nations tournament at Nottingham in July.

Bull, who is at Loughborough University studying sport and exercise science, has made the step up from being under-18s captain to earn five senior England caps and four GB caps in the summer. He won a silver medal at the Champions Trophy in August, England’s best finish in this tournament. He was also a travelling reserve for the Commonwealth Games.

“This award is brilliant,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything of the sort. It’s a massive privilege. It has been a cracker of a year. Looking back I am at quite a different place to where I started. The transition from juniors to seniors has been such a massive experience. Getting my first cap knowing I had made it absolutely thrilled me. And walking on to the pitch in Germany for the Champions Trophy and getting the silver medal was immense.

“It was all a bit surreal. It is just brilliant to play with all our top guys. London 2012 is obviously on the horizon and hopefully there is a lot more after that.”

Harry Martin: "fantastic to win this award". Picture by Peter Luck

Martin represented England at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. He was coached by Olympian Julian Halls at Ipswich School and at the Old Loughtonians club in Essex. From an early stage “he demonstrated that his stick skills and hockey brain were far in advance of his years”, said Loughtonians club representative Martin Williams.

Martin still travels 140 miles to train with the club. He gained his full GB and England cap before reaching the age of 18.

“Playing in the Commonwealth Games against India in the semi-final was the absolute highlight of my time so far and I learned that playing in front of 30,000 people is the main thing that I want to do and though we still feel a bit sick about not getting a medal and going so close, it has encouraged me to press on. The London Olympics is obviously the big thing at the moment.

“It is fantastic to win this award. So many things have happened since India it still hasn’t sunk. It is a great honour when I see some of the people who have won it before.”

Higgins Group finance director Paul Lewellen said: “I think Andy and Harry are two of the most outstanding candidates that the Higgins Group have ever been associated with. They are of exceptional quality. To have reached their standard at their young age augurs well for hockey in this country all the way to and past the Olympic Games. We wish them all success.”

In third place was Brendan Creed of the Bowdon club and Altrincham Grammar School.

Alice Sharp (England under-21, Birmingham University and formerly of Belper HC) sustains the notion that hockey is a family game. The Birmingham University midfielder came top of the polls as far as the judging panel was concerned for being plucked out of the under-18 programme and into the England under-21 squad where her performances helped win a silver medal in the European championships, losing out to Holland in the final last summer.

Sharp began playing at Belper HC, where her mother, Jackie, played; her brother Joe is also in the England under-16s with two sisters Rachel and Emma are both playing for university sides.

Alice Sharp: second time winner of the Higgins Youth award. Picture by Peter Luck

Studying economics at Birmingham, Alice Sharp is coached by Phil Gooderham, who said: “Alice slotted straight into the England team where she held her own playing in midfield against the other countries’ best players.

“Alice has a great attitude, tremendous hand skills, eliminating players easily and rarely losing possession.”

Sharp says it’s not all just about top-flight competition. “Obviously I have aims which I need to work towards. It was an enormous step up to the England under-21s but a great challenge. I also like the social side of hockey and having a good balance in my life. I just want to keep playing and enjoying the game. I am surprised and very happy to win this award.”

Cannock’s Jo Leigh, formerly of Wakefield and Belper, came in a close second in the awards. The judges were very impressed by her nomination from GB and England international Martin Jones at Repton School, and have no doubts his predictions of senior international honours will come true. Loughborough Students

Josie Inverdale, captain of that England under-16 team in 2008 and then winning a bronze at the European under-18 in 2009, also featured highly with the judges eventually awarding third place.

Notes for Editors
The awards were introduced by the late Derek Higgins OBE who sadly passed away in December 2004. A great
supporter of hockey and youth work, Derek initiated and sponsored these awards. His son Richard, the chairman
of the Higgins Group plc, will again make the presentations this year at the Hockey Writers’ Club annual lunch on Wednesday.

The panel of judges for the youth awards consisted of Paul Lewellen (on behalf of Higgins Group plc), Maurice Kittrell, President Middlesex HA, and Hockey Writers’ Club committee members Peter Luck, Bill Colwill OBE and Graham Wilson.

The judging panel commented on the high standard in what was an excellent year in terms of entry numbers.

The Higgins Group Youth Awards are just two of the awards to be presented by the HWC at the Royal Thames Yacht Club. The winners of the 2010 UK Players of the Year will also be presented at the ceremony.

For further information please contact:
Maurice Kittrell, E: T: 01279 428 568 M: 07715 147 746

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