One of the ultimate titles in hockey, a sport in which Australia already has a lengthy list of accolades, is up for grabs.
I know the football World Cup is right around the corner but guess what? When it comes to the hockey World Cup we actually have a decent chance of winning.
The world No.1 Kookaburras are seeking back-to-back titles after knocking off perennial World Cup antagonists Germany 2-1 in 2010, while the world No.4 Hockeyroos are out to break a World Cup drought that stretches back to 1994 when they also beat Germany 5-1.
Kookaburra Glenn Simpson said the team was in “good spirits” and excited to begin the tournament.
“This is likely to be one of the biggest World Cups yet with both the men’s and women’s competitions going on at the same time,” the 27-year-old said.
“The people of Holland love their hockey and there is a buzz around the tournament that suggests it is going to be a great one.”
Simpson said carrying the mantle of reigning champions did not have much influence on day-to-day preparations.
“We call on the experiences of the 2010 glory to remind ourselves of what it takes to win the World Cup and just how hard it is.
“We believe that we can go deep into this tournament but you can only do that by performing well on each given day.”
Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch said the women’s side had plenty of games under the belt since arriving in Europe two weeks ago.
“Since arriving we are all feeling in good shape,” Lynch said.
“The field’s great, our hotel is fantastic and the vibe in the group is very positive
“Confidence is a big thing in our group and we aim to build on it every training, game and tournament.”
Lynch said she has a “real belief” in the group and felt they could “definitely” win the World Cup.
“Our goal is to make the final but we know there will be plenty of tough games along the way.
“There’s no team we can’t beat so we just have to get it right on the day.”
The International Hockey Federation expects more than 380 million people to tune in to the World Cup (the ABC will screen in Australia). Millions more are expected to stream online and more than 95 per cent of the tickets for the tournament have been sold already according to the FIH.
Held over 16 days, with 76 matches in The Hague, the Kookaburras begin their title defence against Malaysia on May 31, while the Hockeyroos take on Korea on the same day.
Still not convinced? Here are 10 reasons to watch the hockey World Cup:
1. The talent
The talent hockey players possess is dazzling. As with most professional sports, the ease with which they perform often belies the skill needed to produce. When it comes to hockey, hand-eye coordination is at its peak. Check out this Sports Media Group video which includes international stars and a few Kookaburras demonstrating some of their skills.
2. The danger
Hockey is dangerous. The ball can zip around the field (and the air) at more than 150km/h and every now and then a player is on the receiving end. Not to mention the wooden sticks often swung wildly in a player’s direction. Take a look at this pic of Kookaburra Nathan Budgeon.
Not the best way to end WL. Nursing a broken eye. But no surgery needed and able to fly home! pic.twitter.com/Tu1MNMhCEV
— Nick Budgeon (@NBudgeon) January 19, 2014
3. The best Australian hockey player ever
What can you say about Jamie Dwyer? Named five time best hockey player in the world, Dwyer’s dominance on the international stage is unparalleled. If Dwyer played AFL he would not be able to walk down the street in Australia. As it is, he has to remain content with star status in more hockey-crazed nations such as India and the Netherlands. The 35-year-old has represented the Kookaburras more than 300 times and found the back of the net more than 200 times. This video of Dwyer scoring a goal at the World Cup in 2006 belongs in the dictionary alongside numerous words: athleticism, pace, skill and freak.
4. The drag-flicks
‘What are drag-flicks?’ the hockey uninitiated ask. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a reference to the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I assure you, it’s not. Drag-flicks are used predominantly in penalty corners, where a team gets a chance to set up an offensive play. An attacking player drags his stick along the turf before flicking the ball towards the goals. The speed and pace of drag-flicks, which have evolved into lethal weapons as equipment and playing surfaces have improved, are truly a sight to behold. Take a moment to watch this clip and pretend you are standing in the goals trying to defend one of these.
5. The Hockeyroos
Lets not forget our talented women’s hockey team. Skills on the field are not limited to the men’s game. Check out Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachel Lynch making this amazing stick save running back towards the goal last year.
The save was at the World League tournament against England on their home turf. Lynch said it was “something that just happened”.
“I use my stick a lot when I train and play, so I feel comfortable, but yeah, it was definitely just a reflex save.”
6. The Madonna
The Hockeyroos captain, Madonna Blyth, is a leader in every sense of the word. At just 28 years old, Blyth is the most capped Hockeyroo heading into the tournament. The Hockeyroos player of the year 2013 has more than 280 appearances in the green and gold. Tough and uncompromising, Blyth’s leadership will be crucial for the younger members of her side.
7. The goals
The highlights of men’s and women’s hockey run long into the depths of YouTube but this solo goal posted by International Hockey Federation showing the Netherland’s Lidewij Welten in an amazing solo effort is one to admire. First effort, second effort, third effort, the Dutch player’s tireless running eventually results in a hard fought goal. Lets overlook the fact that it was against the Hockeyroos.
8. The People’s Beard
Kookaburra Glenn Simpson has transformed in recent months. The baby-faced Victorian who started growing his beard after his wedding last year has become a modern day Ned Kelly look alike.
“The beard, it’s going well,” Simpson said ahead of the tournament.
“It’s been almost seven months of growing now and there are good days and bad days.
“I am still undecided about whether or not I will play the tournament with it.
“It’s a minute to minute proposition at the moment.”
Forget the AFL for beards, look to hockey. Glenn Simpson has the People’s Beard.
9. The humour
The Kookaburras, it seems, are a bunch of dags, in a most endearingly Australian way. Check out this video posted by Kookaburra Simon Orchard of the team earlier this year. They have moves on the field, and, erm, some moves off it.
10. The highlights reel
One of the best things about hockey (and lets face it, sport in general) are highlight reels. The fact that at any given moment something truly amazing could happen is what makes sport so enthralling. On that note, this video sums up how hockey turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.
For information on local coverage of the World Cup visit: http://www.hockey.org.au/Watch
Follow Rachael Lynch on Twitter: @RachLynch27
Follow Glenn Simpson on Twitter: @GSimpson21
Follow Tim Doutré on Twitter: @TimDoutre