Just one season separates GB handball from now and the 2012 Olympic Games in London. However, a season has passed since I last wrote a blog and it really has been an eventful one!
The season began in September 2010 and I started out in AGF in Aarhus, Denmark playing in the First Division; the second best league in the country. After a long pre-season I was craving a good start, but I didn’t get one. A long bus ride to Copenhagen, a red card and a loss was exactly what I got. That’s not all; my red card meant that I became suspended for the next match despite a protest. I watched my team seize our first victory of the season from the sidelines, not what I had hoped for but still, I was there to celebrate.
However, throughout September I continued as normal and obtained heaps of match time, some good performances and goals.
By the end of September it was national team duty and we were heading home to the UK. We hosted Italy, Switzerland and Portugal at the Liverpool Echo arena over four days. After previously overcoming Portugal in May we were hoping for a fine tournament.
We met Portugal first and lost out by one measly goal. It could have gone either way. They came with a stronger squad than in May and we couldn’t keep up as they led throughout match; a rather disappointing result from us.
We slept on it, only to receive the same treatment the following day in our battle with Switzerland. We lost out by just two this time, the knife dug a little deeper. Another game where we could have easily grasped some points but it wasn’t to be it was again just out of our reach.
The time came where we had to lift our heads, big style. We set out to beat Italy from the start - we had to. We were playing in front of a home crowd, families and friends and had a point to prove; if we want the go ahead for handball to be in the London games we had to start winning.
And we did just that. We overwhelmed them; thrashing them convincingly by 10 goals, 31-21. We beat Italy by more than Switzerland and Portugal did. Not the perfect tournament for us as we could have won the first two games, but it was acceptable.
I headed back to Aarhus and resumed with my club duties, pocketing more wins and some good games.
It was short lived. After two months in AGF I made a swift switch to Liga team, Sønderjyske. I had landed my first ever professional contract in top flight handball.
Based in the south of Denmark, Sønderjyske were struggling in the top Danish league and were rock bottom. There wasn’t much I could do about that apart from soak up a fantastic opportunity to compete in one of the best leagues in the world. Being the only player in my position at the club there was nobody challenging me for my position and I played every game. This was a fantastic chance for me to gain experience at the top level.
My first match was against previous Champions League winners and current Danish Champions; Viborg HK, live on the television.
I had a dream debut and scored three goals. I continued to play well, however Christmas was fast approaching and we still hadn’t won a game. We ended 2010 stuck at the bed of the league table with zero points. We were going nowhere but down to the First Division.
As the first half of the season ended, I was off to meet the rest of the Great Britain squad as we headed out to Holland and then Poland for a 10-day camp.
We spent our preparation in Limburg, Holland, preparing for a tough week in Poland where we participated in the World Championship Qualifiers. During our time in Holland we played against some of their top club sides and won them all. It was great preparation for us and a great camp thanks to the help and support of our proud sponsors, Tasty Limburg.
The following week was tough. We met top nations Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Cyprus. Three months on from our last camp in Liverpool we had individually come on leaps and bounds.
We were defeated by Austria for the third time in the space of two years and then also lost to Poland. But surprisingly, we were victorious over Slovakia and hammered Cyprus again since meeting them on their own turf back in March 2008. Despite beating Cyprus convincingly we still could have done much, much better.
With three unimpressive team performances and my own not really ones to be pleased about, I felt somewhat proud regardless. A 27-26 win against Slovakia is the greatest victory we have had so far on our long, windy road to London 2012. It was unexpected and we definitely turned a few heads. Something to be very proud of!
Due to the team’s financial predicament, it was our last training camp until our next which will be in May in Turkey, where we will meet Poland once again. It was a great way to begin a long break from the GB team.
Overcoming Slovakia wasn’t the only thing we had to be proud of. We don’t have to play in the dark anymore. Our place in the London Olympics had been confirmed in January 2011.
We now know there will be a team of 14 players; I just have to make sure I am one of them! It is safe to say we have our spot and won’t be watching from afar, and I won’t be going home to do my A levels just yet. We have the chance to challenge the best nations in the world in front our own fans. What a relief!
Once the Christmas break was over the second part of the handball season began in Sønderjyske. Still hoping for a win we went into our first game with heads held high. But not for long! It was a tough ordeal and we were on the receiving end of a good old smashing, sunk by 20 goals.
It continued this way for us; we were getting smashed from all sides from all teams. Six months into the season and we still hadn’t lifted from the bottom. The team above us was a far cry away and we had no chance and no belief. There wasn’t even the slimmest thread of string for us to even try to hold on to.
The least we could do was try to win a match. Just one. In February we did just that in front of our home fans. Yes, in spite of us losing every game so far they still turned up in their hundreds.
We beat Aalborg DH by one goal, a close game, an even game, but a win is a win. We lost the rest of our games and Sønderjyske suffered direct relegation and will be competing in the First Division next season.
Even though that was the only league match I won during my time in a Sønderjyske shirt, I really enjoyed my time there. Sønderjyske demonstrates great supporters, players, staff, coaches and training. A club I will never forget. Thank you Sønderjyske.
However it was still a tough season and a long season. My confidence is a little stained and I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted or worked so hard for every point, ball and goal in my life. That’s how it should be.
It was a reality check, it is tough at the top and I proved I’m good enough for the job. Only winning one match during a season doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from it - there is much more to it than winning. I learnt a heck of a lot and came away with some of the best performances and goals I have ever had.
There is now just one long pre-season and a handball season to go from now until the Olympic Games and I can’t wait to see what it has to offer!