Hager hopes stay with Black Sticks to Rio

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012
Mark Hager
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
MARK HAGER: "I think both countries would love it [a Kiwi team in the Australian league] but both countries are also aware that it needs to be viable."

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With new player depth, government funding expected to hold and coach Mark Hager open to extending his contract to the 2016 Olympic Games, the future looks good for the women's Black Sticks.

One of the shrewdest coaching appointments in New Zealand sport over the past four years, Hager has hauled the national women's hockey team from 11th to third in the world rankings over a single Olympic cycle.

Taking charge in the aftermath of Beijing 2008, where they lost every game and had funding slashed, Hager has rebuilt the Black Sticks, steering them agonisingly close to the podium at London 2012, losing a playoff for the gold medal match on penalty strokes and beaten in the bronze medal match by hosts Great Britain.

Announcing his squad for 2013 yesterday, Hager's contract expires after the following year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But, the Australian says, the option of staying on to the next Olympic Games in Rio is something he would happily consider.

"I'd like to [renew to 2016]. At this stage I've left my options open to see what happens, but I really enjoy being part of this group and we'll have those discussions in a year's time," Hager said.

"A lot of it depends on family as well, as long as they're happy and still enjoying it here then we're more than happy to stay."

While the men's Black Sticks are staring down the barrel of funding cuts after a poor Olympic campaign, finishing seventh in London after targeting a semifinal, it's unlikely Hager will see a reduction in his resources when the the next round of elite sport funding is announced next month.

Also playing in the women's Black Sticks' favour is a landmark bronze medal from the 2011 Champions Trophy - a benchmark Hager now needs to build consistency around.

"You always like to hope of retaining government funding, you never get too excited until you hear the actual figures, but hopefully we get a programme funded," Hager said.

"There's a lot of potential there and [we] have retained senior players from London, that's fantastic and we can really build a group around it.

"I think the 2011 Champions Trophy did a lot for the girls' confidence and, moving forward, it's about regularly having them on the podium at major tournaments.

"Rather than being the chasers, we're in the lead pack," Hager said.

Slotting eight debutants into next month's squad for a six-test series against India, Hager also pointed to the emergence of "damn exciting" new talent and being re-acquainted with a coaching mentor - fellow Australian Colin Batch who has taken the reins of the men's Black Sticks post-London.

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Ironically, it's Batch who now has to emulate Hager's achievements.

"It's going to be good having Colin around, I've learnt a hell of a lot from him about coaching over the years," Hager said.

"I'm hoping to learn even more, he's been over in Europe and will have picked some new experiences up.

"We're in a good position at the moment, we're able to bring in eight new players to a national squad and the quality there is damn exciting," Hager said.

The Black Sticks' series against India begins on December 8. 

- Fairfax Media

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