Great Britain youngsters bring home AYOF medals

Great Britain U21 women at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF)

Great Britain’s U21 women stepped onto the podium at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival on Sunday as they overcame the USA in a 2-1 victory in Sydney. Two goals from Ipswich’s Hannah Martin were enough to seal the bronze medal against the Americans as GB roared back from 1-0 down to win through Martin’s golden goal in extra time.

USA’s Elena Marie Bolles opened the scoring after only three minutes but Martin levelled just two minutes later. Despite the early excitement, neither side could find the killer second goal and the match went to extra time. Eight minutes into the additional period, Martin struck a penalty corner to secure the bronze medal for GB.

Head Coach Craig Keegan said after the match, "A gutsy team performance saw us through to a golden goal victory against the USA. It was the kind of game we might have lost earlier in the tour, but the team spirit that has developed through numerous setbacks helped us fight to the end.

"This tour has been a huge learning curve for a number of young players. We have developed knowledge by playing teams like China and  Australia that we don't usually compete against  but more importantly we learnt a lot about ourselves."

In the men’s final of the AYOF, Great Britain and Australia replicated the excitement of the clash between their senior counterparts at last summer’s Olympic Games as they battled it out for the gold medal. Ultimately, Australia took the title following an epic encounter that saw the GB U21 men battle back from three goals down to take the lead, only for the Australians to equalise late on and then find a winner in extra time to take the match 5-4.

Having fallen behind to a goal from Australia’s Jack Elliot, things got worse for GB as they conceded twice more before the break. On Saturday, GB coach Martin Rodgers had said his side wanted to leave Sydney with no regrets and despite the challenging first half, that attitude was in evidence as they returned for the second period.

Just three minutes after the break Ross Gilham-Jones of Canterbury fired home to reduce the deficit and GB were back to within one goal (3-2) after Sheffield Hallam’s Phil Roper perfectly placed his effort beyond the Aussie goalkeeper. With British confidence growing they then found themselves a man up when Australia were punished with a yellow card and GB took advantage to equalise from the penalty spot, captain Andy Bull of Loughborough Students coolly slotting home for 3-3.

The momentum was well and truly with Great Britain by now and from a seemingly impossible position at half time, GB found themselves 4-3 up when Brooklands MU’s Sam French struck. Just as it looked as though Great Britain had pulled off the great escape Australia levelled late on to make it 4-4, and two minutes into extra time a powerful golden goal strike from Australian Will Gilmour secured the hosts the gold medal, meaning GB bring home the silver.

Head Coach Martin Rodgers said afterwards, "We found ourselves in a real ‘backs to the wall’ situation conceding three in the first half but the second half rally by the players to get ourselves back into a winning position was quite remarkable and says much about the spirit that has developed within the group in the short time we have been together. We looked to be heading for gold with minutes remaining when Australia pounced on an error to equalise. Out here the Australians have been effective in changing the tempo of games at key times. We are all pretty devastated right now but I’m sure given time we will reflect most positively on our performances. I’m hopeful that with further hard work some of this group may develop into fully fledged Olympians in the future."