EVERY so often Shea McAleese comes across some people who tend to pigeon-hole his game to the German style.

That stereotype sits quite comfortably with the Black Sticks men's midfielder, who is making his swansong at the Rio Olympics from August 6-22.

"They say I play like a German and that's fine because that's the reason why they have won three gold medals, including Beijing [2008] and London [2012]," says the 31-year-old from Napier, who plied his trade professionally for the UHC Hamburg club in Germany in their Euro Hockey League campaign from 2007-08.

McAleese is in awe of players who go through their sporting careers without injuries or having been axed.


Ironically, the former William Colenso College pupil sees his dumping in 2007 from the Black Sticks as a turning point in his life.

When the then New Zealand coach, Shane McLeod, had axed McAleese after the World Cup that year he had a choice - sit in the corner and sulk or take a hard look at himself in the mirror.

Fortunately, the then 22-year, who felt extremely uncomfortable during a "crazy time", swallowed his pride and chose the latter, taking on board McLeod's advice to emerge as a more wholesome athlete.

"In hindsight, it was the best thing to happen to me for the most part of 2007," says McAleese, before jetting off on Tuesday night for Rio with the Colin Batch-coached New Zealand team who are the "golden goose" of the games after South Africa's withdrawal last year.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) extended New Zealand Hockey an invitation last December which it duly accepted as the next best team not to automatically qualify for Rio at the FIH World League semifinals.

"I never wanted it [dumping] to happen in 2007 but it was a good kick in the backside from Shane McLeod," says McAleese.

From that snub emerged a more robust specimen who went on to register his best tournament at the Beijing Olympics the following year.

"I now know my strength very well. I'm fit, I have good vision and I keep my game simple.


"I know what I can and can't do and I make few errors."

That sense of existentialism rubbed off on his life well beyond turfdom.

"In life I'm confident. If I want something I go out and chase it."

McAleese considers himself approachable, family-driven and very supportive not just as a senior member of the Black Sticks' leadership group after donning the vice-captain's armband in 2011, but also with girlfriend Jaimee Lovett.

Jaimee Lovett (right) with fellow kayaking Olympians Caitlin Ryan (left), Kayla Imrie and Hawke's Bay's Aimee Fisher. PHOTO/NZME.
Jaimee Lovett (right) with fellow kayaking Olympians Caitlin Ryan (left), Kayla Imrie and Hawke's Bay's Aimee Fisher. PHOTO/NZME.

Lovett, of Whakatane, is a member of the New Zealand four 400m sprint kayaking team competing in Rio.

"We met at the high-performance centre in Auckland almost four years ago so we were best of friends but it's moved on from there," he says, adding that with the bronze medal playoffs scheduled for August 18 he is in a great position to support Lovett's final on August 20.

His parents, Margie and Dan McAleese, of Napier, aren't going to Rio although they were fortunate enough to watch him in London in 2012, albeit at some expense.

"If they really wanted to go I suppose they could have but I kind of didn't want them to go so as not to worry about them.

"Knowing my dad, he's likely to go out to town and get lost for three days or something so everything crosses your mind."

As far as the Black Sticks are aware, the Zika virus is under control.

"You can't control everything but I'm not looking to have children anytime soon," he says, mindful if players contract the virus it will be akin to catching a cold and not something that will knock them out of the games.

He says the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) has been awesome in providing mosquito nets and security amid harrowing stories disseminated via media.

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, who is going to his third Olympics, is accustomed to hearing odd stories that tend to gather momentum as the games draw nearer but says that sort of hype is expected from one of the biggest global sporting events.

For the man whose dream was simply to play for his country when his "fortuitous" career began 11 years ago, he never envisioned three Olympics.

The bloke with 233 international caps is circumspect in the team's quest for medals, considering in Beijing they performed but fell shy of winning a medal.

They promised a lot in London but finished a disappointing ninth place after blowing a 5-2 lead to concede what would have been a historic maiden victory over Germany.

"We're a real big dark horse at this stage," he says of Rio after eight build-up games against some top contenders where they dominated but didn't win.

Unlike some other countries in Rio, New Zealand doesn't have individuals carrying their team.

"For us no one stands out because we play as a team," he says of the Simon Child-captained side ranked No8 in the world.

He draws parallels in the Black Sticks' culture with that of the Highlanders in Super Rugby: "We stand side by side as the fittest team so we can be very hard to beat."

McAleese sees his ascendancy in hockey as a three-fold network of support:

1. Where he came from moulded his template with the support of his family.

2. The assistance he received from the community and sponsors, especially the likes of Speights Steak and Ale House and Bruce Mactaggart, because he definitely wouldn't have had a career. "As amateurs we wouldn't have got that support so I wouldn't have been still here and off to the games."

3. The backing of the Bay community as a whole in sponsoring both the men and women's campaigns for the past two Olympics.

McAleese says it all started in 2007 with Hastings merchant banker Sam Kelt's vision to employ McLeod as Bay academy coach and his successor, South Africa-born Greg Nicol.

Mactaggart and David Nancarrow, he says, took hockey in the province to the global arena in staging the annual HB Festival of Hockey, which incorporates an international women's tournament.

"Who can say their country can get that kind of national support from their province?"

As the only Bay representative in Rio in hockey - the Black Sticks women's most-capped player Emily Gaddum (nee Naylor) withdrew this month because of pregnancy - McAleese realises he'll be "100 per cent a Hawke's Bay flagbearer".

Both teams will sport the Bay sponsorship on their playing uniforms.

He says the Black Sticks appreciate the support here regardless of their results but they work extremely hard to succeed.

"I want to give a big shout out to Hawke's Bay and my family and friends who will get up very early, sometimes at 4.30 in the morning, to watch us because it's very special to us."

He intends to give some riveting insight to fans on Instagram (@shaemcaleese), Facebook (shae mcaleese) and Twitter (shae-mcaleese) from the athletes' village in Rio during the games.

"I want to show people what they don't get to see on TV. I want to show Hawke's Bay my room, the village and what the games are like," says the Central Mavericks player/coach, who suspects he's unlikely to make the cut for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at age 36.