Hockey: Siblings have two shots at Rio

By David Leggat

Brooke Neal, Black Sticks hockey. Photo / Christine Cornege
Brooke Neal, Black Sticks hockey. Photo / Christine Cornege

Apart from the obvious, Shay and Brooke Neal have a couple of things in common.

The Northland brother and sister play hockey for New Zealand, have had their share of battles with injury, and are eyeing trips to the Rio Olympics.

They also have the habit of finishing each other's sentences.

And they have set aside work for the all-consuming target of making Rio. Attacker Shay is a lawyer; defender Brooke has a communications degree and works at a marketing agency.

They have the dream, you suspect nurtured on the sports fields of Whangarei where they grew up five minutes from Kensington Park, hockey HQ for the region - "world class, one of the best in the world", says Brooke, who is in New Zealand's squad for the eight-nation Hawkes Bay Cup starting in Hastings today.

Parents Peter and Leone were heavily involved in sport, which filled their young lives.

Shay made it to the national team first, in 2009 against India at the Punjab Gold Cup in India and he's up to 66 caps.

In a sport where it seems ridiculously easy to quickly rack up a pile of caps, he would surely have had more but for his injury breaks. Brooke made it two internationals in the family four years later against Australia in the Oceania Cup and has 71 caps.

Shay had a knee operation in 2006, a hip operation in 2013 and got back in time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years ago, where he popped his AC joint and played five games with injections before each match.

Then last May, his knee went again. Now, fingers crossed, he's good to go if selected for Rio. Shay is in the New Zealand squad which flew to Malaysia yesterday for the Black Sticks' defence of the Azlan Shah trophy.

He calls his career "a bit of a roller coaster" because of the injuries.

"You come back (from injury) and you're not quite where you were. Those bad performances play on your mind."

He is hoping to stay clear of injuries until Rio - assuming coach Colin Batch picks him - and his sights are on medalling.

That's a big call considering New Zealand just made it into the Games field through a back door, having twice missed chances to qualify on their own merit, and needing the withdrawal of South Africa to get the 12th and final spot.

Brooke has had ongoing battles with a wonky knee - chronic patella tendonopathy. Her attitude towards her injury has changed with time.

"For a start I was trying to look for cures, or fixes," she said.

"When that was not working I had a mental switch where I accepted it was just going to be something that's always going to be painful.

"But if I managed it right, did all the rehab right then I can play through it. It's pretty messy in there, but the good thing is it's not doing long term damage," she said.

The pair bounce thoughts off each other - "more in general life, coping with the high performance environment. We do talk a lot," Brooke said.

"He's a striker, I'm a defender, so we do give advice but it's more about making sure you're in the right frame of mind. All about the top two inches."

The men, ranked eighth, will be long shots for a medal, but opponents their higher ranked rivals would view as dangerous.

The women are ranked fourth and very much podium contenders.

A series win against world No 2 Argentina in Mar del Plata a few weeks ago, with a below full strength squad, certainly didn't hurt.

Brooke Neal is adamant the women's squad are a big chance in Rio. "It's our time."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 26 Sep 2016 08:57:09 Processing Time: 609ms