Tuesday, June 18, 2024

My life in hockey: Craig Keegan, former England women’s assistant coach

As he returns to club hockey as coach to Belper Ladies, The Hockey Paper speaks to gold medal-winning former assistant coach, Craig Keegan, on his journey to the top

I Played Aussie Rules Football up until aged 13 and then I got injured. I took to hockey like a duck to water and got into the Tasmanian team a year later through to the seniors.

I never did crack the national team and so I travelled to the UK in my mid-twenties.  This was in 1994 and I didn’t bring my hockey kit, but a friend was coaching in Bedford and so I played four games in the East Premier Division and scored a hatful of goals.

Graham Griffiths, of Beeston HC, phoned me up and I signed for six months of hockey for the club and six months in Hobart; it was a social, friendly and an “extremely competitive” environment at that time.

I saw myself as someone who was a player and coach. Winning was the outcome; I led by example and through the quality of play. However in my desire to be successful I did cross the line on occasion and spent a bit of time in the sin bin in my career. But I played on the edge of intensity!

There’s a lot of banter which goes on the pitch in the UK, which is not there in Australia. Being an Aussie, I copped my share and I took much more than I gave out.

At the same time, I did my teacher training at Trent College up until 2008 before a position of head coach at the National Performance Centre. I really enjoyed seeing the technical aspects of players coming through up until London 2012.

There was a buzz about the GB girls following their bronze in London. It was unusual for me to come in with a transition and a new coach. We had some good results, medals in every tournament. Our world ranking didn’t drop and it wasn’t until 2014 where things went badly wrong.

Yet it was interesting to have a year of relative success and to then bomb out of a World Cup; the group dynamics had changed and there was a lack of leadership.

I enjoyed working with Jason Lee (then head coach). He was a smart guy and I learned a lot. But it just didn’t work with the group of players he had. With two years until Rio, Danny [Kerry] was definitely the right choice.

We had an interesting balance. We had leadership responsibilities and spreading the load meant we had a different voice from time to time. That became a very healthy environment. Karen Brown led on defensive corners, I led on attacking corners, while Danny led on the shoot outs.

I was responsible for scouting six and Karen five of the other nations. Having the three of us with an opinion in different areas was crucial and it didn’t rely on one or two players. The Rio experience was where we worked best, while the interaction and communication in team meetings were exceptionally good.

Time went by so quick and from the moment we beat Australia in the group stages, there was calm in the group.

People say it’s easy when you’re winning, actually to get to that point you have to manage all levels of stress. We never really felt it, it just rolled with momentum. That was the key and us having an understanding of it.

I’ve done some talks and presentations since our Olympic gold and it’s nice to be recognised as part of that great GB women’s team. You aspire to those heights and you never go into a programme thinking that will be the outcome. But it will always be a special time for me.

Craig Keegan now heads up Performance Sport at University of Derby

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