So, as the season draws to a close, that time of year is upon us when awards are handed out.

Some of them are richly deserved, namely at club level, while others are often about who you play for, not how well you do, namely all the rest of the awards! Not that I am bitter, but AWB being over looked for the PFA Team Of The Year is just criminal. Anyway, Tuesday night saw our latest round of end of season awards, which took place at Boxpark, Croydon. This of course, has been covered by Katey Murray. However, there was one element of it that I wanted to focus on briefly. AWB was the star headliner, picking up three awards. He has been the standout choice since the opening game of the season. Townsend's goal up at City was unbelievable, and the moment it hit the net, it was always going to be Goal of the Season. Meanwhile, an award for service to the club was never going to be in any other hands than those of legendary Julian Speroni. The award that I wish to focus on, is the CPLFC Player of the Year.

This is an award that would have been genuinely tough to make a decision on. When you are flying in a season, or someone is banging in goals for fun, it can be quite easy to make a choice. When your season is a tough grind that generated a handful of wins, and saw injuries ravage almost the entire squad, it becomes a lot tougher to make a choice. There are a few who, in my mind, stand out for various reasons. Kallie Balfour has put in some very impressive performances for us, with a few goals as merit for her efforts. Andrea Georgiou has established herself in the heart of midfield, and become a key component to our play. Shannell Salgado had huge gloves to fill when replacing Megan Lynch after Megan suffered a season ending injury. Shannell was superb, showing the true competition there is for the starting spot in goal. Nikita's return from a long standing injury to motivate the team is hard to ignore. Jordan Butler is another who has flourished, with some strong defensive performances and a couple of goals to boot. In all fairness, I could continue listing the team and reasons why they could be the right choice. However, a decision was made, and ultimately, it is impossible to disagree. The winner of the award, and a very deserving winner, was Ashlee Hincks.

Ashlee joined from Millwall last summer. As with Kallie, she did so knowing that she was replacing Gemma Bryan and an absolute bagful of goals. Doing so would be hard enough, but doing it at a level above what the club was both used to, and prepared for, made that job even harder. In terms of goals this season, no one has really stood out. No one managed more than a few, as the team as a whole found converting chances difficult, against a higher quality of opposition then they were used to. For Ashlee, her return was a total of six goals. Two of them were scored in the league, while incredibly, four of them were scored in one night, at home to London Bees in the final cup game before Christmas. Her tally could have possibly been more, only she saw a penalty saved in one game, and, as with many of the others, injury took its toll. Nevertheless, every time she played, Ashlee always made sure that defenders knew she was there. While I see her as a typical central number ten, she has at times been asked to play wide in a front three. When those times occurred, Ashlee always set about the role with the same determination and conviction as she would centrally. As the season progressed, she was becoming more and more influential on the pitch, a real handful for defenders, and also a real workhorse. She always put in a shift for 90 minutes, doing whatever the team required, even if it dragged her away from the goal scoring positions a striker thrived upon.

As has been the case for all of our strikers this season, there have been too many times when they have had to play alone, because injury has robbed them of partners. With Ashlee, Gemma, Kallie & Nikita, there are so many possibilities for combinations, yet we just haven't had much chance to see them, or for any of them to grow into a solid partnership. However, these days an effective striker doesn't always mean goals(although they do help). In the World Cup, the French labelled Olivier Giroud a key asset in winning the tournament. Yet, not only did the striker not score, but he never had a shot on target. Instead, he helped the team tick, he helped others flourish, and that can be even more important than one individual finding the back of the net. This is the role Ashlee has played for us this year. It is one that can go unnoticed, yet be so important.

There is another way that Ashlee has stood out to me this season. In my 5BY5 interviews, the second set of five questions focuses on teammates. Ashlee was quite possibly the most common name to be said during those interviews. For most, she qualified as having nerves of steel. She was the player her teammates would turn to, to take a penalty in the last minute to win the league. That right there is trust personified. It shows just how much faith and confidence those around her have in her. The other category that she kept being named in, was unofficial captain. A few of her teammates stated that despite not wearing the armband, she was always vocal, always a natural leader out on the pitch, trying to guide and motivate her team. That is another quality that is so valuable to a team, and so admirable, because it can go unseen by those in the stands.

In my mind, in what has been a difficult season, Ashlee has led by example, and earned her award. So here is to you Ashlee, the CPLFC Player of the Year...congratulations!

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