Men's hockey: Still chasing dreams

By Anendra Singh

Never mind how nerdy the student, everyone is guilty of daydreaming at some stage of their school lives.

Dare to dream, of course, and the chances are the more astute teachers will snap you out of that mode of escapism from the daily humdrum of calculus, market equilibrium analysis and periodic tables.

However, Shea McAleese is on a campaign as the only male hockey Olympic ambassador, urging youngsters around the country to not only dream but dream big if they are to realise their Olympic or elite aspirations in sport.

"It's quite cool because it happened to me while I was at Colenso High School [now William Colenso College]," says McAleese, who was last night passing through his hometown of Napier to Auckland after a six-match test series against Korea in the past two weeks.

The 28-year-old, who captained the last two test matches, vividly recalls how as a third former he found the words of board sailing Olympian and New Zealand's "Rainbow Girl" Barbara Kendall inspirational.

"She said, 'If you have a dream, chase it. Don't give up'.

"She said, 'If you have a good enough dream nothing can get in the way or take you away from it'," McAleese recalls.

Having seen the light, the hockey vice-captain is now relishing spreading the Kendall gospel and harbours hopes of inspiring some school children in Hawke's Bay during his tour, especially his old schools which include Ahuriri Primary, Nelson Park Primary and Napier Intermediate.

Impressing on the youngsters to set incremental goals towards a big one, he uses video clips to share indelible experiences of the Games opening ceremony, the Olympic village lifestyle and meeting celebrities such as Roger Federer.

"I'm really passionate about it and the kids enjoy listening to it, too," he reveals before Black Sticks coach Colin Batch names his squad to the World League "semifinals" in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, from June 13-22. The top three qualifiers from the eight-team tournament will book a place in the World Cup in the Netherlands in June next year and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Before Rotterdam, the Kiwis will play two practice matches against Spain from Sunday next week at Teresa before the action at the World League where the Sticks are in pool B with the hosts, India and Ireland.

Doing their best against the Dutch goes without saying but Ireland will be a given.

India, however, are dangerous because of their unpredictable nature.

Having thumped them 4-1 at the London Olympics last year, the Black Sticks got a wake-up call at the Champions Trophy in Melbourne where they lost to an "Indian team we'd never seen before".

The top four qualifiers from the World League semifinals will then compete against the top four qualifiers of another segment of semifinals from London in the World League finals in India in January next year.

Coming off without a win against the world-ranked No8 Koreans - two stalemates (1-1 twice) and four losses (2-0, 2-1 and 1-0 twice) - McAleese reckons the Kiwis have had the ideal preparation with Batch blooding new talent into every line up.

"We have 23 players so we had strong teams but not our strongest," he says, adding captain Couzins missed the last two while their best striker, Phil Burrows, didn't play the first three.

Nevertheless, it was an eye-opener for the Sticks who found the Koreans, coming off an eventful tour of Australia, adopting a Barcelona soccer-style of passing game that starved them of possession.

"We call it the 'small game'. They swarm the ball with 10 players on the sideline and then they pass it around among themselves.

"We are good but the Koreans are excellent at it."

Fundamentally that means the Black Sticks need to find ways to switch play to force their opponents to scatter to open up field goal opportunities.

While both teams were found shy in attack, McAleese lauded their defences.

"We've been scrambling well in defence so that's a big tick for us."

It doesn't bother the New Zealanders that they can't emulate the Koreans in the Barcelona-style of game.

"We're like Australia. We'll have the ball and have a go and won't hold the ball for very long," he says, explaining slowing down the game and employing the interchange bench to run down the Koreans is one potential ploy.

"I don't think we'll even touch that level of game pattern ever."

A "hobbit moving around a little", McAleese spends five months playing professionally in Holland, four months living and training with the national squad in Auckland and the remaining months in the Bay.

From Monday he'll fulfil five speaking engagements in Auckland schools, with the Olympic committee meeting those costs and any other visits.

The midfielder/defender, who broke his shoulder four times but is one of the fittest players in the national squad, salutes Australian coach Batch.

"He's fantastic and probably the best coach I've had since I started playing for the Black Sticks.

"He's a good communicator, keeping things simple and keeping everyone at the same level," McAleese says of a culture where seniority doesn't dictate terms in a constitiuion devoid of any hierarchical structures.

"My hockey feels like starting all over again."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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