Hockey: Flynn to stick it out for test 100, at 21

By Kelly Exelby

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw took 11 seasons to get there but Tauranga Black Sticks midfielder Gemma Flynn will crack the 100-test milestone this weekend, just four years after her debut.

Flynn, who has played 97 internationals for the women's hockey team, is in the first of two Black Sticks teams set to take on Australia, United States and India in a Four Nations tournament at North Harbour today.

To rotate players and help with Olympic selection, coach Mark Hager will select a second Black Sticks team for the second leg of the Four Nations against the same countries from April 18-22 in Pakuranga.

Flynn, 21, is likely to play her 99th test against Australia tomorrow before cracking the ton on Sunday against the US.

The United States and Australia are in New Zealand's pool at the Olympics, with the rivalry particularly strong with Australia, who are eager to rectify their Oceania Cup series loss last October.

Australia arrive in sensational form too, having recently drawn a series with Argentina and won a series against Korea.

Flynn debuted against Korea in Auckland in 2008 as a 17-year-old still attending Tauranga Girls' College and was a surprise selection in the Black Sticks team for the Beijing Olympics several months later.

The prospect of playing her 100th test had crept up on her, only becoming more apparent in the past week, she said.

"When you say it out loud it sounds like a lot of tests but hockey players tend to play far more tests than any other sports. I've only been in this team four years so I don't feel old - more experienced maybe."

The Black Sticks' rapid improvement under Hager in the past few years had brought with it more international opportunities, which helped accelerate her tally of test matches, Flynn said.

"The more we've improved, the more the top teams have wanted to play us. When you're a lower-ranked team there aren't as many of the top teams that want you in their country."

Flynn didn't have anything planned to mark the milestone, preferring to focus on the team.

Still, she's only got enough games to rank sixth among the current Black Sticks, with Clarissa Eshuis (109), Charlotte Harrison (140), Krystal Forgesson (145), Kayla Sharland (156) and Emily Naylor (180) all ahead of her.

Her pathway to the Black Sticks started when she found herself in the right place at an opportune time.

Taking part in New Zealand under-18 trials at the end of 2006, injury to an under-21 player on an adjoining field saw her hauled into the squad for the Youth Olympics in Sydney.

A call-up to the senior side followed after a solid season for Midlands in the National Hockey League.

And fresh from warm-up wins over Japan this week, Flynn has re-set her sights on performing well in the Four Nations, with the 16 going to the London Olympics finalised in mid-June after the team returns from tests against China and Korea in Seoul.

New Zealand did not fire at the Champions Trophy in Argentina, dropping from fourth to sixth in the rankings after failing to win a game, with the entire 25-player squad on notice that they needed to perform or risk missing selection for the Olympics.

"Having all 25 players centralised in Auckland was the best thing that could have happened because there's a lot of competition, no one's complacent and everything we do, whether it's training or on the pitch, is at 120 per cent.

"Just because I might have played 97 tests doesn't get me any favours or inside running, I still have to prove myself.

"I have a bit of experience on my side but my only focus is putting in solid performances, because every position is there for the taking. It's still a young team and Mark will take the 16 players he sees as the best."


Black Sticks women for Four Nations, North Harbour (April 12-16):

Kayla Sharland, Emily Naylor, Krystal Forgesson, Katie Glynn, Sally Rutherford, Alana Millington, Ella Gunson, Julia King, Clarissa Eshuis, Bridget Blackwood, Sam Harrison, Cathryn Finlayson, Gemma Flynn, Charlotte Harrison, Melody Cooper, Bianca Russell, Stacey Michelsen, Anita Punt.


Today: Australia v USA, Black Sticks v India.

Tomorrow: India v USA, Black Sticks v Australia. Sunday: India v Australia, Black Sticks v USA.

Monday: playoffs

- Bay of Plenty Times

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