Hockey: Go-to man sitter for Rio rigours

By David Leggat

Ryan Archibald is off to his third Olympics. Photo / Getty Images
Ryan Archibald is off to his third Olympics. Photo / Getty Images

There was more riding on the Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in April for Ryan Archibald and Colin Batch than merely retaining the title.

Seven games in serious heat and draining humidity awaited the veteran midfielder. For coach Batch, it would be a proving ground.

If Archibald, one of the finest players the country has produced, could show he had the fitness to go with the skill and appetite, it would solve an Olympic-sized dilemma for Batch. If he couldn't, then it would be curtains on an outstanding career. The Rio Olympic programme calls for potentially eight games in 13 days.

"That was always Colin's main challenge to me, proving as a 35-year-old I could last the demands of a tournament," Archibald said. "It was hugely important not only to be a good hockey player but to have the physical capabilities to withstand the rigours of game after game.

"That challenge was quite refreshing and gave me a bit of extra motivation to make sure I got there. At Azlan Shah, I felt really happy, thought I played well there and felt great at the end, so I ticked that box."

Batch liked what he saw and leaves no doubt why he wanted Archibald in the squad of 16 named on Friday for Rio in August.

"He's a pretty astute person. He's a very clever hockey player," Batch said. "Technically, he's very good and I think it's in the crunch situations that we see the best of him. When we're under pressure, he's a bit of a go-to man. He wants the ball in those situations."

"He was pretty good for us at Azlan Shah all the way through. That resolved a few issues for us."

But Archibald has made it clear his third Olympics will be the end. When the tournament finishes, so will his 19-year career in black.

"Rio will, 100 per cent, be it for me. It's a great event to finish on.

"I'm very excited for Rio but also looking forward to life after it. It'll be time to step aside and let others have their opportunity."

Injury and unavailability has cost Archibald about 80 international appearances. If not for those, he'd be sailing past 400, uncharted territory for a New Zealand player.

Amid the various injury setbacks and work obligations, only once did Archibald, who made his national debut while at Auckland Grammar in 1997, seriously consider retirement.

It was after the London Olympics in 2012, when New Zealand won just two games and finished ninth.

That rankled for a man whose father Jeff is New Zealand hockey royalty, a member of the gold medal-winning 1976 team in Montreal.

But he did not want to walk away on that note. Instead, he took just over two years off, "got on with a few other things" and pondered whether to return. That would involve re-proving himself to a new coach and show team-mates he still had the game.

"Then I came to the realisation I still had motivation and plenty in me to offer," he said. "I'm happy I never made the clear-cut decision and I still have fire in the belly to carry on a bit longer."

Captain Simon Child, for one, is grateful for that.

"He's a pretty quiet sort of guy who just gets the job done. He's an incredibly reliable performer and still one of the most skilful.

"He doesn't speak a whole lot but when he does you certainly sit up and listen. He's a perfect guy to have around for the younger players to share some of that experience."

Like Hayden Phillips, who wasn't born when Archibald made his debut. Phillips, an 18-year-old midfielder from Levin, has a bit about his game, even though he's only played 11 internationals.

"He reminds me of myself when I was a 17-year-old and playing with a couple of guys who'd played for New Zealand with my father," Archibald said.

As high praise goes, that will do nicely.

- Herald on Sunday

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