Black Sticks dry tears, eye 'extra jewellery'
JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Who can rally their heart-broken hockey squad the best?
Will it be Black Sticks coach Mark Hager or will it be Great Britain's Danny Kerry?
Tears have been flowing leading into tomorrow morning's (Saturday 2.30am) bronze medal match; even the coaches have had their moments.
This is high stakes. Not the highest - that slipped from the grasp of both sides on Thursday - but an Olympic bronze medal in women's hockey is still a treasure.
Players from both sides have put the last four years of their life on hold. Jobs have been quit and relationships put on hold as players uprooted themselves to a central training spot.
Win or lose the Black Sticks can hold their head high. No one from New Zealand has punched above their weight more in London than the Black Sticks, save maybe road cyclist Jack Bauer.
A special character has emerged over the last fortnight, her name is Kayla Sharland.
The 26-year-old Black Sticks captain has a command over her side that we normally associate with the leadership of Richie McCaw and Stephen Fleming. When she is not barking orders, she is slicing up defences or scoring goals.
When she is on the turf the Black Sticks press, when she is off, they hold.
It takes some convincing that Sharland is 100 per cent fit. Her knee is heavily strapped and she required back treatment on the sideline before the semifinal, but nevertheless she vies for player of the tournament alongside the two ladies that lead their teams into the final - Argentina's Luciana Aymar and the Netherlands' Maartje Paumen.
Others can decide if she is New Zealand's finest ever female hockey player but the history book shows the Black Sticks are in uncharted waters, their previous best Olympic effort being sixth on three occasions.
Sharland has been anything but a lone hand. Most of their squad have had their moments and the names Stacey Michelsen and Samantha Charlton are ones to paste in the hat for the future.
Goalkeeper Bianca Russell has not been far behind Sharland, in terms of form and influencing results. She is seldom seen or heard, but speaks from the heart.
"I'm just trying to do my job and do it well," she said.
"I like big games. For me, consistency is my key and all I want to do, every game, is do the bread and butter stuff well, anything else is a bonus."
Like so many, she fought back tears after the penalty shoot-out loss to the Netherlands, but if truth be known she summed up matters best.
"When we started this tournament we would've been thrilled to bits with any medal, so we have to keep everything in perspective now.
"Of course we are disappointed, we were so close to the shiny ones but any extra jewellery going home is good by me. We'll give it a crack."
A capacity crowd of 16,000 is expected at Riverbank Arena tomorrow, understandably most of them cheering for the home side.
Great Britain cried foul after their 2-1 loss to Argentina. The Black Sticks chose to look within. That tells you something.
- Fairfax Media