Hockey campaign ends on a sour note

JONATHAN MILLMOW
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2012
Kayla Sharland
Getty Images
DRY YOUR EYES: Kayla Sharland of New Zealand celebrates scoring the first goal against the Netherlands.

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Hockey

A hurting Sharland decides to take break Sport funding boss skirts hockey dejection Hockey campaign ends on a sour note Germany end Dutch hopes in hockey final Hager pushes Tasman ties for Black Sticks Netherlands retain women's hockey title Women's Black Sticks feel the pain of defeat McLeod stepping down after sub-par Olympics Brave Black Sticks miss out on bronze Black Sticks dry tears, eye 'extra jewellery'

Every Day at the hockey a tall, wise Indian man speaks glowingly of the Black Sticks.

He says early in the piece “the Kiwi girls will go far” and never wavers from that prediction.

When they play with heavy sticks and concrete in their shoes in the bronze medal match against the Brits he can't believe his eyes.

Afterwards, the Black Sticks want the safety of their dressing room but have been trained to fulfil media commitments. Anita Punt has dancer's feet but not this day. “It just didn't click out there,” she says.

Gemma Flynn puts it down to a Dutch hangover from two days earlier and “the home crowd probably helped them a bit”.

Stacey Michelsen might be a future captain. She says her team gave away too many penalty corners and “weren't pushing out as aggressively as we usually are”. Players cry. It shows how much it meant and doubtless they remember all the sacrifices made.

One of the great campaigns has ended on a sour note.

For two weeks they were a team united in the goal of writing themselves into the record book.

Few of them are touched by magic, but for the part most served their country with distinction. They were a side that relied on fast starts and the counterattack. They would stand their ground until the onslaught had been abated and then launch their own raids.

They had speed down the flanks, a few penalty corner variations and a captain with a heart the size of an ox. Kayla Sharland made an enormous impression. She leads by example, demands the best, tells the truth and seeks victory with a brain that ticks but never seems to explode.

When she scored against the Netherlands, her team-mates hugged her so hard there were fears she may not breathe again.

She is only 26 but has gone to three Olympics, and one senses this was her time. In the end she was chasing something and most of her team-mates reached a point and settled for something less.

She is taking a break, her body needs it, and don't bet your house on her making Rio in four years.

The Black Sticks have a gem of coach in Mark Hager. He is tough and friendly, if there can be such a combination, and marches forward with victory in mind.

He believes in his players and was rightfully annoyed when they clocked off against Great Britain.

The Black Sticks took hockey followers on a journey. They were everyone's second-favourite team at Riverbank Arena, they were spaniels against rottweilers and they caught the hearts and minds of all those in attendance.

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Now they have to find jobs, finish 10-year degrees and return to their friends and families. And unfortunately at the back of their minds for some time will be the feeling of the one that got away.

Results: Beat Australia 1-0 Beat South Africa 4-1 Lost to Argentina 2-1 Beat United States 3-2 Drew with Germany 0-0 SEMIFINAL: Drew with Netherlands 2-2 (lost 3-1 in penalty shootout) BRONZE MEDAL: Lost 3-1 to Great Britain

Best player: Kayla Sharland. Next best: Goalkeeper Bianca Russell. Two for the future: Stacey Michelsen and Samantha Charlton.

- Wellington

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