• Grace Stewart of Australia celebrates scoring their third goal during the FIH Women's Hockey Champions Trophy (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Hockeyroos squad for the Rio Olympic Games has been announced – and there are a few surprises in what is a mix of youth and experience.
By
Jill Scalon

6 Jul 2016 - 1:47 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2016 - 12:04 PM

Coach Adam Commens has gone with plenty of fresh faces, announcing one of the youngest Hockeyroos line-ups ever to make a tilt at an Olympic medal, with an average age of just 23 years.

Despite the dozen debutantes, the 330-game veteran and captain of the side Madonna Blyth believes they are a better team than four years ago when the Hockeyroos finished fifth in London.

“We’ve got 12 that will be playing at their first Olympics. It’s quite unusual but some of those players have played a lot of games for us over the last nearly four years, so while they are Olympic debutantes, they have played a lot of hockey,” said Blyth following the official team announcement in Perth on Monday.

One of the debutantes, and one of just two teenagers named in the team, is 19-year-old Grace Stewart, who has only been part of the Hockeyroos squad for six months.

Stewart was in a state of shock after the team announcement.

“I definitely didn’t expect this – it’s a massive shock. I’ve only been in the Hockeyroos for six months – I debuted in January. So, it’s all very unexpected - it happened really quickly.”

“I definitely didn’t expect this – it’s a massive shock. I’ve only been in the Hockeyroos for six months – I debuted in January. So, it’s all very unexpected - it happened really quickly,” Stewart told Zela over the phone from the high performance unit in Perth.

Madonna Blyth was not as shocked declaring that Stewart has done more than enough in recent performances to warrant her selection.

“It’s pretty exciting and I think Grace has done so well in the last few months, but she’s in a bit of shock today,” she laughed.

“When you’re in form like she’s been it’s hard to leave her out. You can talk about experience and all of that, but if someone is playing well enough and scoring goals and doing as well as she has, it’s hard to leave someone like that out. So she deserves this and it’s great to have such a young one that is so excited and really looking forward to it,” said Blyth.

Hockeyroos building towards a big result

 

Currently ranked third in the world, Adam Commens believes the team is on the right trajectory towards Rio despite recent results.

“I was really pleased with how we played in the Champions Trophy, apart from a number of things that cost us some results, he said. "I felt that we performed relatively well in creating opportunities; we just let in a few chances that we maybe shouldn’t have. So it’ll be about tidying up that defensive aspect of our game leading into Rio."

While Blyth was also disappointed with the result at the Champions Trophy, she believes the signs were there of a strengthening confidence and consistency in the way the team played.

"The confidence when we play at our best and we put a certain style and brand of hockey out there, then we’re hard to beat."

“We were obviously a bit disappointed with the end result at Champions Trophy just recently, but the way we played in several of those matches is the type of hockey we want to play consistently and I think we’ve started to see that and it’s given us that platform to build on going to Rio," Blyth told Zela.

"The confidence when we play at our best and we put a certain style and brand of hockey out there, then we’re hard to beat. So we are confident that the team we are taking, and the way that we’re playing as a group, will give us the best opportunity to play in the big matches at the end of the tournament and bring home a medal."

Opposition in Rio will be tough!

 

Competition in Rio will be tough with the top ranked Netherlands the team to beat – but they’re not the only ones according to Commens.

“The Netherlands – Olympic and World Champions – is the biggest threat for sure; but Argentina has just won the Champions Trophy and New Zealand, despite some recent results, really is a very good side.”

“The Netherlands – Olympic and World Champions – is the biggest threat for sure; but Argentina has just won the Champions Trophy and New Zealand, despite some recent results, really is a very good side.”

Blyth agrees, but knows this Hockeyroos team can beat the Dutch on their day.

“They’ve been number one in the world for many years and deservedly so. They’re tough, they’re a great team and they’re as determined as anyone, but we feel that over the last few years we’ve closed that gap and we know the things that we have to do to try and beat them,” she said.

With the bulk of the team being new to the Olympic experience Madonna Blyth is well aware the excitement around an event like the Olympics is to be enjoyed but not to the point of distraction and that senior members of the squad will need to lead by example – on and off the field.

“I think the most important thing is to try and keep to the things that we usually do because it is quite overwhelming," she said. "We get into the village a few days before we start, because you want everyone to enjoy it as much as possible but you don’t want the overwhelming factor.

"I think for the older players, it’s about making sure the girls are as excited as they can be, but when it comes down to it ... make sure that we’re not letting the crowds or the village or the other athletes overwhelm our younger players.”

"I think for the older players, it’s about making sure the girls are as excited as they can be, but when it comes down to it, we’re just doing the same things we would normally do in preparation for matches to make sure that we’re not letting the crowds or the village or the other athletes overwhelm our younger players,” said Blyth.

“It’s up to the older girls to make sure that when we step out onto the pitch, we’re just playing the way we normally would and that everyone contributes the same way; we need to make sure we’re playing well, setting that example on field as much as anything.”

 

Last hoorah for the long-serving captain

 

Blyth is heading for her third and final Olympics and so is planning to make Rio 2016 really count.

“I don’t think I’ll go another four years, but I’ll put everything in for the next month and make sure I give it my best in Rio. There won’t be another Olympics, so hopefully we get a good result in this one,” she said.

While convinced this Olympics is her last and therefore where her focus is fixed, Blyth said she will see how she pulls up after August and think about the future.

The Commonwealth Games is only two years away and has the added incentive of being on home soil.

“It’s a bit of an incentive that one, but I’ll decide after August. Hopefully I get to Rio and play as well as I can and then I’ll take a step back and have a good look at it after that,” said Blyth.

The team heads off on 23 July with a stop in Chile for some pre-Olympic training and practice matches.

There is no doubt that for young and ‘old’ alike this will be the experience of a lifetime as the Hockeyroos look to lay the foundations for a fresh era of success for Australian Women’s hockey.


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