It’s been a while between blogs but for good reason I think. The last few months have been some of the most challenging but rewarding of my life. I started writing this blog on the way home from the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where the Kookaburras once again proved why we are amongst the best sporting teams in the world. We successfully defended the Commonwealth Games title we won back in Delhi in 2010, and only months after regaining what is the greatest prize in our sport outside of the Olympic Games, the Hockey World Cup.
Three words sum these last few months up for me; comprehensive, connected and resilient, and today’s blog will explain why. Because although we’ve seemingly blown everyone away over the last few months, this period hasn’t been without its difficulties. And even though this blog could easily centre around our obvious on-field success so far this year, it wont. It will showcase the commitment and class of a few guys in the side that epitomise the team first mentality this group has adopted over the last few years and the bonds we have forged because of it. This is how you build a platform for success...
On the eve of the World Cup two of our teammates and form players, Glenn Simpson and Russell Ford, were ruled out after sustaining injuries only days before the tournament was due to begin. Simmo copped a nasty whack on the ankle in a warm-up game v England resulting in a break. Rusty took off on a lead in our last practice game v Germany only to feel something wrong with his calf, it was a tear.
I will never forget the feeling in the room when Ric had to deliver the news to the team that Glenn and Russ had been ruled out of the World Cup. I’m not usually one to use superlatives that compare sport to war and battle because they are nothing alike, but this was as tough a moment as I’ve ever endured, it was heartbreaking. Everyone’s face was plastered with devastation. Russ had tears in his eyes, Simmo was stoic but you could tell he was clearly shattered as well, yet neither of them let their emotions hijack the situation. And if someone had of walked into the room right then, they would have stumbled upon one of the defining moments of our trip. A moment when 20 blokes were unified - truly connected - by what had just happened.
I look back now and still wonder how the hell we all pulled it together so well. Partly because we had prepared so well for such an instance. We’d spent many late nights discussing endless possibilities, dealing with our feelings, talking things over and learning to understand each other and how we should react to potential events of this nature. But the main reason we got on with the job so well was the attitude of the boys directly involved. Obviously it was an extremely difficult situation but such is the nature of Simmo and Russ, they didn’t let it impact on the team and as such should be applauded for their resilience. They were all class and although they missed the tournament, they were a huge part of the team’s success. That afternoon set the scene for what would be a memorable few weeks.
But from great tragedy comes great opportunity. Enter Tim Deavin and Matt Gohdes. Both boys were travelling with the side in the lead up to the tournament in the off chance that they may be needed if something went wrong. It says a lot about the character of both of them, knowing that their dream was so close yet still out of reach when we took off for The Hague. They ate, slept, trained, recovered and attended meetings with the rest of the team; all the while knowing that ultimately they would be leaving the day the tournament began. But they were called on and they both delivered in spades. It can’t have been easy but both of them slotted straight into the side and had a huge impact on what is one of our sport’s biggest stages. Bravo boys!
The World Cup was everything it was billed to be. In my opinion, the greatest hockey nation in the world hosted the greatest hockey event the world has ever seen. The stadium was colossal. The fans were loud and passionate. The city embraced each nation and showcased all the good things about our sport. And as a team, we may have finally lived up to our considerable potential. We stood on the podium with our gold medals and were as close to exceptional as I think we’ve ever been. We had just annihilated the Dutch 6-1 in the final to cap off an undefeated tournament. This might have even pleased Ric Charlesworth, not for long though I’m sure.
But before the dust could even settle on the greatest moment of our careers, our coach and two of our most senior players decided to call it quits. Ric said he’d had enough and perhaps the fire that'd burnt so brightly in him for so long had finally began to fade. Team mainstays Liam De Young and Rob Hammond announced their retirement’s days later and so ended three outstanding Kookaburra chapters. There was plenty of emotion flying around that’s for sure.
But the rollercoaster had only just started to rev up. Our Commonwealth Games team was then announced and many new faces were included. Jamie Dwyer was left out in what can only be described as a decision with the future in mind, even though I still think he is amongst the best 16 players in the country. But as the team showed in Glasgow, the future is bright. We had 10 Commonwealth Games debutants and a 4-0 result in the final again capped off another undefeated run. New faces announced themselves, guided by the experience of others who had been there before. And the tournament was fun! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Glasgow and it puts an exclamation point on the best few months of my hockey career to date.
And what is most incredible and outstanding for me is the fact that we did what any great team does, we defended our titles and we did it comprehensively. We are the worlds best and I for one am going to spend the next few months letting that sink in. There’s only one thing missing from the trophy cabinet now…
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Thanks to Voodoo Hockey Australia – best sticks in the business!
***Whilst writing this blog I was listening to Milky Chance's album - Sadnecessary. Check it out : D