Both England and Great Britain’s Maddie Hinch and Belgium’s Vincent Vanasch are iconic members of their teams and they have been able to use the spotlight they have found themselves under to good effect.
Since the Rio Olympics, Hinch says the media and fan attention has given her a means of showcasing just what it takes to be a goalkeeper. She said: “People have been shocked by the level of athleticism and dedication it takes to play at the very top.”
And the interest has meant more youngsters have been asking to try out in goal, traditionally a position that was always hard to fill.
“There has been a massive upsurge in the amount of people wanting to put the pads on,” says Hinch. “It used to be the case that schools or clubs would find it hard to get someone to play in goal, but now I get regular messages about how teachers and coaches are struggling to find enough GK kit to supply the demand.”
For Hinch, this is a case of deja vu, she was voted Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016 as well. The unassuming goalkeeper says winning the award a second time has “overwhelmed” her, as has people’s reactions. “I quite often find myself getting recognised in the street, in shops, on trains and it still, and always will, feel so surreal and humbling when that happens. I think to myself, ‘well, if people can recognise me, the one who wears a mask most of the time, then they will definitely recognise the rest of girls.’”
For Vanasch, the award is symptomatic of just how far the Belgium team has come in the past few years. “When we look back at where Belgium has come from, it is quite incredible. I could never have imagined that I would pick up this award 10 years ago, but the team has just moved on incredibly.”
A silver medal at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships and a gold medal at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg were just two of the standout competitions for Belgium this year. Vanasch says, with a hint of mischievousness, that the best moment was a 5-0 win over close rivals Netherlands in the first game of the EuroHockey Championships.
While both ‘keepers are happy to celebrate their award right now, they are firmly focused on the year ahead. “We have a huge year ahead of ourselves as an English squad,” says Hinch. “It starts with the Commonwealth Games in April and is quickly followed by a home World Cup in July. As a squad we will be doing our utmost to make sure we head into both of those tournaments ready to perform at our very best and the World Cup in London is such a mouth watering prospect off the back of Rio. We have the chance reignite the excitement in the UK surrounding hockey and the thought of potentially medalling in front of a sell-out home crowd is just ridiculously exciting."
For the Belgium ‘keeper, the aim is simple. “I want to win the World Cup in India and I will be working hard to be at my best for that event.”