Hockey men forget medals, put focus on mettle

COMMITTED: Steve Edwards and the Black Sticks men are fully focussed on their semifinal against India at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
COMMITTED: Steve Edwards and the Black Sticks men are fully focussed on their semifinal against India at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The mark of a successful Commonwealth Games is a medal - preferably a gold - but the trick, says the New Zealand men's hockey team, is to forget about the silverware.

And it's tough; for some athletes and teams, a Games gold has been in the back of their minds for four years and, for others, longer.

For the world No 6-ranked hockey players, they've at least been distracted by last month's World Cup in the Netherlands, with the Glasgow Games becoming focus No 1 only recently.

They play world No 9 India tonight in the Games semifinal after thumping Malaysia 6-1 yesterday morning at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre.

They're unbeaten, tipped up England with a late winner which means they avoid powerhouses Australia in the semifinal, and their confidence is high.

But the senior players know not to get ahead of themselves, success at big tournaments has come few and far between for New Zealand.

A Commonwealth Gold doesn't match the Olympic triumph of 1976, but it would put this team on the map.

They know that too and, like the medals, need to keep it out of their minds.

''It's not easy, but it's something you learn along the way,'' the experienced Simon Child said.

''Our group is lucky, we've got a lot of experienced guys and a lot of guys who have played a huge number of games, and they help the younger guys stay focused.

''If you start thinking about medals and results it can backfire because then you're not thinking about all the little things you have to do, and just doing your job properly.''

Both Child and goal-scoring defender Andy Hayward had a certain confident glean about them after their win over Malaysia.

It was a team-wide feeling, they said, and one they hoped would see them get past India tonight.

''We're building nicely and starting to hit our straps now,'' Child said.

''It's important to build into it and peak and make sure you're playing your best hockey at the end of the tournament and I feel like that's what we're doing.''

Hayward said the side's confidence came from the results at the Games. It has beaten Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, England and now Malaysia.

''Winning puts smiles on faces,'' he said.

''The boys were talking the other day about it, winning builds the confidence and the self-belief which is big. And, when you've won four on the trot, which we haven't done a lot of lately, that's the right place you want to be heading into the semifinals.''

The ''in the now'' mentality won't let the New Zealand team think about what would be waiting for them should they win the semifinal and qualify for just their second Commonwealth Games final.

Juggernaut Australia will prove too fast, strong and skilful for England and be waiting for Dean Couzins and his team.

The Aussies have never lost a single match at the Games and are the current world champions. But this is a different side from the World Cup and, if there was ever a chance to tip them up, now might be it.

But first up is India tonight at 11.15 (NZ time).