Black Stick takes heart from cheering on little sister in Rio

By Alexandra Newlove

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Shay Neal, pictured with parents Leone and Mark, won't be getting a medal but will cheer on fellow hockey star sister Brooke as the women's side advances to the semifinals.
Shay Neal, pictured with parents Leone and Mark, won't be getting a medal but will cheer on fellow hockey star sister Brooke as the women's side advances to the semifinals.

Though Black Stick Shay Neal's Olympic dream is dashed, he'll take heart in watching his sister Brooke and her team advance to the semifinals in Rio.

The men's hockey side, including Whangarei striker Shay, 25, led Germany 2-0 during their Monday match before three goals in the last four minutes shocked the boys and knocked them out of medal contention.

But the next day Brooke, 23, helped the women's Black Sticks beat Australia 4-2 in their quarter-final. This set up a shot at a medal when the women play Britain in the semifinal, and made for a bittersweet celebration among the Neal clan.

Auntie Jane Saunders - who raised $19,500 for the pair's Rio campaign - was watching avidly from her Whangarei lounge room.

"I was gutted and devastated after the men's game. They played so well. But then Shay has got his sister going through, so that's very cool."

Ms Saunders said she had been glued to the often-late night games - "I'm knackered, I feel like I've had a baby" - watching her niece and nephew, as well as their parents: her brother Mark and wife Leone, looking on in the crowd.

"Mark is in his element, he's living and breathing hockey," Ms Saunders said.

"You could easily pick them [Mark and Leone] out in the crowd."

Mark was a former hockey player, "so competitive, so the opposite to me".

She reckons Brooke and Shay "definitely" inherited their dad's will to win.

"When Brooke was 3 [Shay] used to just fire balls at her, they were so competitive.

Black Sticks siblings, Brooke Neal (left) and Shay Neal before heading off to Rio. Photo / Nick Reed
Black Sticks siblings, Brooke Neal (left) and Shay Neal before heading off to Rio. Photo / Nick Reed

They've always played hockey together and Shay always had Brooke in the goal. That's why she's a defender," Ms Saunders said.

Dad Mark posted on Facebook after the men's quarter-final match saying it had been an "awesome" game and "very emotional afterwards".

"Off to the girls right now so hoping they do the business," he posted.

The Black Sticks Women take on Britain tomorrow, 8am local time.

- Northern Advocate

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