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Monday, 30 September 2013 11:28

Hockey: The Rise of Northwood Hockey

Written by  Jonathan Cook

There is no doubt that since Darryn Gallagher was appointed head of hockey at Northwood, the school has been making waves.But what does he do - and what does the Durban North school want to achieve on the hockey pitch?

Gallagher has been at Northwood since January 2011 and his position as head of hockey encompasses the following:

* 1st team hockey coach
* Arrange all the school’s fixtures, tours, find and appoint coaches ... everything that goes with the organisation of hockey at Northwood.
* The hockey academy coach.
* “Dartfish” video analysis centre.

“The school would like hockey to be ranked as the top school in KZN and for Northwood to make it into the top 10 in the country,” says Gallagher. “But they also want participation in hockey to increase across the board and for it to be run in a professional manner.”

The first few years weren’t easy at a school so clearly performing well below its potential. “The first two years were incredibly tough for me. I had a lot to learn and made plenty of errors within my role as head of hockey. The communication structures within the school and to parents was something I had to work really hard at improving. It was also tough because we have to give every team an opportunity to play and train on the turf, when we only have three afternoons a week available.

“I believe Northwood as a school, and specifically hockey at the school, is a sleeping giant. It has definitely been under-achieving. We have made huge strides as a school over the last few years and believe we are on the right track to making it a powerhouse in South African hockey. I was employed by the Governing body to put Northwood on the map in South African hockey circles and so far it is going well but there is still a lot of work to be done. “

Of course, the first team, the flagship, is only as good as what lies beneath it. “My first goals were definitely to get the right structures in place for the A teams but that has now extended to all teams. Initially I tried to do everything myself but was failing horribly. I have now surrounded myself with an amazing bunch of age-group managers and coaches, which I believe is making a massive difference across the board with hockey at Northwood. They are all people who are extremely committed to hockey.”

What is the Northwood hockey model? “We have an academy set-up, whereby instead of going to general physical education kids can pay to go to sports-specific coaching. This is done during the physical education lesson. As it stands, it does work but I believe it is on too small a scale to really make a difference, as it only caters to those boys who are willing to pay for it. We are busy working on a new structure where it will be more affordable, thereby allowing more boys to attend, which will benefit our hockey teams and results in the long run. As it stands, the focus is on improving technical skills on the turf, and physical conditioning in the gym. We have plans to grow it into a variety of educational aspect such as correct diets, rehabilitation and prevention techniques, mental strength experts and so on.”

The Beijing 2008 Olympian says the quality of Northwood coaching at U14A and U16A team level has been outstanding this year. “Matthew Fairweather works with our U14A team and Mike Wiggett works with our U16A side. They both play provincially, with Matt having earned some experience in the South African men’s squad. Both have been involved with coaching school teams for a number of years. I have seen a huge improvement in the boys over the season.

“Both coaches are extremely committed and work really hard on basics, physical conditioning and general understanding of defensive and offensive systems. This is extremely important to the success of the first team, as these boys will have the right grounding when they reach me, which will allow me to concentrate on the finer things and not have to re-teach them the basics first.”

And the teacher/coach versus outside coach conundrum? “We try to employ as many teachers as possible but we will always employ the best person for the job when it comes to our A teams. If we have to use outside coaches for that, then we do.”

Northwood have also found that our participation has improved dramatically this year as a result of having more teachers involved.

When it comes to the education of coaches or teachers at the school, Gallagher will spend time with them whenever he feels it is needed to try and guide them on the correct path. “I have also drawn up a coaching manual, which is for the exclusive use of my coaches. This manual will have training drills, defensive and offensive playing styles and so on.”

How strong is schoolboy first team hockey in KZN? “I believe the hockey level in KZN is strong and will continue to grow stronger. The majority of the top schools have good coaches and infrastructures in place. This is shown by the fact that both KZN Inland and KZN Coastal generally end in the top five at the SA U18 National Tournament.”

The Northwood first team have had a fantastic season. Currently ranked third in the country on, Gallagher believes it will be the most successful season in the school’s 23-year history. At the time of writing, Northwood had played 21, won 18, drawn 2 and lost 1.








3 – 2



5 – 2



3 – 1



4 – 1

CBC Boksburg


10 – 1



3 – 0

Maritzburg College


3 – 2



1 – 1

Pretoria Boys


2 – 2

St Albans


1 – 0

Thomas More


12 – 0



2 – 0

St Charles


4 – 2


KZN Night League




5 – 1



4 – 1


Founders Festival


Paul Roos


4 – 2

Paarl HJS


4 – 1



8 – 2

DF Malan


6 – 0



5 – 0

St David’s


8 – 0

Has the Northwood first team’s success been part of a two- or three-year plan? “The success of this group has definitely been as a result of a three-year plan. Two players, Matthew de Sousa and Dale van der Merwe, formed part of the first team in their grade 10 year in 2011. Both players achieved their 50th games for the school this year. Two other players were given exposure in that same year - Steve McManus and Kyle Pillay, who will achieve his 50th game in our last fixture of the year.

“I have had the opportunity to work with four key players over the past two-and-a-half years. I have 10 players this year that represented the team last year, so it is an extremely experienced team. At this level, that kind of experience goes a long way to creating a successful team.”

As coach, how does Gallagher instil discipline? “For me, the biggest factor with regard to instilling discipline and commitment is to ensure that you yourself have those characteristics as a coach. I try to treat my players as men rather than schoolboys and I find that they rise to that. There have been times when I could not be at the start of a training session and they will have warmed up and started a drill I may have done in a previous session, so there is real maturity in this group. I try to be firm but fair with my team and as a result I seldom have discipline issues.”

Yes, but how does he take into account the different personalities in the team? “That is incredibly important to me as a coach. I believe you need to know ‘what makes the player tick’ if you are going to get the best out of him. If you don’t understand the wide variety of personalities within a team, then you will never get them to function well within a team.”

How does the 86-Test cap veteran motivate his players? “To be honest I don’t spend that much time on motivation. I encourage my players to be self-starters/motivators and they seem to do it pretty well.”

Which is the hockey school that Gallagher most admires? “My old school, Maritzburg College. I believe that as a hockey school they have great structures and recruitment. They have a fantastic, knowledgeable team of people involved in hockey and until recently they had the best hockey coach in the country, Mike Bechet, who turned College hockey into an empire that other schools have always strived to emulate.”

What sort of hockey do Northwood firsts play? “I encourage my team to play an attack-minded brand of hockey. I work extremely hard at getting my players to play forward - through passing, speed and skill. I also work hard to turn defence into offense through effective counter-attacking. I believe that the modern game is fast and direct.”

Northwood firsts are now ranked in the top echelon in SA, so how important is winning to Gallagher? “Obviously winning is very important to me, but it is not everything. If we deserve to lose on the day then I am all for it. I believe at this age players need to learn to do both. I believe in creating a winning culture, rather than a win-at-all costs mentality. Whilst it is fantastic to currently be ranked at number three in the country, in the bigger picture it’s not that important to me. If we end the season that high up, then it will be great for Northwood and our community to have experienced that success.

“I would rather focus on other things, like, have we achieved our goals as a team? Have players learnt the correct way to play? Have I improved them to help them achieve in hockey, such as KZN and National selections? Have I instilled discipline, commitment and a winning attitude in them that they will take away from school? And most importantly, have they enjoyed doing it?”  

Does Gallagher believe in working on players individually - to iron out mistakes in technical areas and to improve on strong points? “We have different phases in the year with regard to our training. Individual technical development normally takes place in the fourth term. I will do position-specific sessions; that is, defenders, midfielders and strikers. I normally look to introduce new techniques plus improve on current techniques during this term. We have a goalkeeper specialist who works with our keepers throughout the year.”

What victory this season has given Gallagher the greatest satisfaction? “No particular victory has given me any more satisfaction than the other. I have enjoyed all of them as I believe the team has worked hard to achieve them.”

What are the challenges that lie ahead for Northwood hockey? “To be honest, most of the goals I set out when taking the job in 2011 have been achieved this year, but now I need to re-strategise and try to build something that is sustainable. I would like to keep Northwood amongst the top schools in the country.”

An Olympian as a player, what attracted the gifted centre midfielder to coaching - and what satisfaction does it give him? “I’ve always enjoyed giving back to the game. I enjoy the challenge of trying to make players and teams better. It gives me the opportunity to stay competitive, even though I have stopped playing.”

Who has been the greatest influence in making Darryn Gallagher the successful hockey personality that he so clearly is? “When I was at school, it was Mike Bechet. He instilled commitment, determination and the drive needed to make it as a player. He ensured I had all the basics needed to make it as a player. My mom and sister have always supported and pushed me to achieve. They played a major role in my hockey career.”

Happily married for seven months now, “Gally”, as he is universally known in hockey circles, is, apart from the demands of his Northwood job, also the SA U21 men’s head coach, which is the nation’s 2013 Junior World Cup team to play in the JWC finals in New Delhi, India in November. He is also head coach of the SA Universities men’s team that is to compete in the World Student Games in Russia in July. Gallagher has also recently been appointed as one of three trainers of the National SA men’s team. How does he fit all this in – and how do Northwood feel about all these other roles? Does his Northwood job come first? And does he/will he, miss much school time?

“It does seem like I have a lot on my plate but it’s just about managing it all. I am employed full-time by Northwood, so that is my first choice and preference. I am lucky that the Junior World Cup (December) and World Student Games (July) both fall over the school holidays, so I don’t have to worry about leave or clashes at school. As the head coach I can determine when any camps will take place, so I normally look to run them outside of Northwood’s outdoor hockey calendar.

“With regard to the SA men’s team, I have made myself unavailable for the next six months until my U21 and student team commitments are finished. I think it is important for me to prioritise these two important events, while to date Northwood have been very good to me with regard to leave and have been very understanding of my national commitments.”

Darryn Gallagher and Northwood hockey – watch this space.

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