By Madonna Blyth
Hi, I’m Madonna Blyth, Captain of the Australian Women’s Hockey Team currently competing in the Rabobank #Hockey World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.
This is instalment one of multiple blogs I will be writing, providing a unique insight into the way the Hockeyroos go about their business and the way I approach captaining and leading a national team at one of the most demanding and prestigious hockey tournaments.
I have been a member of the Hockeyroos for a decade and have competed in two Olympics, two Commonwealth Games and currently competing in my third World Cup.
As far as World Cups go though, this one is unique, as it sees both the men and the women’s teams compete alongside each other in the same stadium. Although we are only into day 2 of the tournament our World Cup prep began nearly three weeks ago with a 4 Nations tournament in Bremen, Germany where we played some tough matches against the host nation, England and Japan.
We followed this up with a much anticipated three days off in Antwerp, a rarity when on tour but a necessity to rejuvenate and maintain motivation. As typical girls do, we used this time to relax, sightsee and do some damage to our credit cards. There is a bit of a split in the group when given some time off, some prefer to get out and explore whilst others use the time to rest their bodies and catch up on movies or their favourite shows.
After settling into our hotel in The Hague (which we share with both the German Men and Women’s teams) we started focusing more closely on our impending opening match verse Korea. The Opening Ceremony was a great evening and one where hockey players are seated side by side with royalty, as the King of the Netherlands was there to welcome the 24 teams to his country. There was plenty of great music although it was clear to all that the captains of the teams (who were required to keep rhythm during one of the songs), should never foray into the music industry post their hockey career!!
Unfortunately during our last training session before our match against Korea I suffered a little niggle in my calf and therefore couldn’t take to the field with the rest of my team mates. It just goes to show how quickly things can change: one moment I am preparing to play a crucial match and the next minute forced to watch from the sideline. First reactions to an injury are always the same, frustration, anger and disappointment but as captain this is always accompanied by guilt. Guilt that you won’t be able to lead the team on the field when the game is tight and that you feel like more pressure is placed on other members of the team.
One of the great things about our squad though is that everyone plays a role when it comes to leadership and our players and staff are fully prepared for anything that gets thrown at us. During the match against Korea we had some great moments and we had some stressful times but overall the girls pulled together to get the job done and record our first win of what we know can be a successful campaign for us. For myself, supporting the team from the bench is a new role and one that thankfully will be short lived as I look forward to getting back out onto the pitch in a few days time.
Whilst it was upsetting not to be playing, it was important to put my personal disappointment aside and make sure there was as little disruption to the team and their preparation as possible. My role mainly entailed supporting our coach Adam and delivering messages to the players, in particular my fellow midfielders. Take my word for it when I say that it is much more stressful being on the bench then out in the middle!
“Vaarwel voor nu” (goodbye for now)
1st June 2014 - Madonna Blyth
After the second game of the World Cup against Japan, the Hockeyroos are sitting in a healthy position with two wins on the board. Another gutsy three-two win sees us placed exactly where we want to be, with plenty of room to improve moving forward. Unfortunately I had to again watch the match from the sidelines as I am still waiting for my calf to heal fully before I get back out on the pitch.
Against the run of play and similar to our first game verse Korea we went behind by a goal midway through the first half. Whilst this wasn’t the desired way to begin a match, our girls stuck to the game plan and managed to take the lead and hold onto it for the remainder of the game. One of the things that we pride ourselves on and demand from each other in the Hockeyroos, is to always play with confidence. Having confidence in your own ability but also in team structures and tactics. This ensures that when things don’t go to plan out on the field, such as going down by a goal early in a match, we don’t let ourselves be affected negatively and change the way we play. We believe as a team that we can handle any less than ideal situation that is thrown our way. This has been displayed throughout our first two games, winning, after initially falling behind on the scoreboard to teams ranked lower than us. The closeness in score lines proves that every match in a World Cup can be a tough one and at the end of the day we would much rather take an “ugly” win than a pretty performance that doesn’t get us the three points.
One of the great things about being involved in a team sport is seeing close friends accomplish personal milestones and we saw two of these during our match on Monday. Kirstin Dwyer played her 50th match for Australia and Ashleigh Nelson achieved the huge feat of playing 150 games. As part of Hockeyroos tradition the senior players in the team present the milestone athletes with a present and say a few words that summarises what the athlete epitomises and makes them unique. Congrats to both girls who no doubt have many more brilliant games in them!
Since the completion of the Japan game we have had two rest days. The days have included training, a gym session, several meetings and plenty of time to relax. Despite the above commitments it can be difficult to contain and entertain eighteen athletes who all have a healthy competitive appetite resulting in the fruition of some interesting antics. Our girls “borrowed” the German teams ping pong table from two floors above and proceeded to host our own mini table tennis competition. After we were busted for the theft we had a friendly yet competitive game against the German girls. I think our girls walked away calling it a draw, which probably meant we got taught a lesson!
On a positive personal note I made it through a tough training session today without any pain or issue so I am looking forward to my first match of World Cup 2014!
Last night saw the Hockeyroos face our biggest challenge of the 2014 World Cup so far, facing the host nation in front of 15,000 passionate fans. Our loyal group of supporters were well and truly out numbered but as always did their best to be seen and heard. To walk out into a full stadium of hockey lovers is a rare occasion for us Aussies and one that no doubt will be remembered for a long time to come.
The match was extremely fast paced and physical to begin with and we created some great opportunities right from the first whistle. One of the concerns entering the game was that the crowd and subsequent noise might affect our young team but it seemed to serve the opposite. We applied a lot of pressure early on and produced what has been our best half of hockey in the tournament so far. Unfortunately we could not sustain this for the full seventy minutes and eventually went down two nil to a team that we have seen dominate international hockey for many years. We take a lot of confidence from this match into our remaining games as we know that if we play that brand of hockey every time we step out onto the pitch, we will come out successful more times than not.
Despite feeling disappointment about the result it was a great feeling to take the team on a lap around the field to acknowledge the crowd and the support we were shown. The girls received an amazing reception from the local crowd and it was a great to soak in the atmosphere after a fierce battle. It is a unique experience to play in front of a crowd of that size while showcasing what we are about.
It is a quick turn around from the game against the Dutch before our equally important match against New Zealand on Monday morning. This is a do or die battle and one that we must win to see us earn a spot in the semi finals. As athletes you always like to have the fate of your tournament in your own hands and not have to rely on other results to get you through. That’s why we will be going out to win this match and continue to improve on our performance from the previous game.
As I sit writing this I am proud to say that the Hockeyroos have made it through to the final of the World Cup 2014! After an epic battle against the USA for seventy minutes we proceeded to 1 v 1 shootouts to determine the winner after a two all draw. We felt as though we dominated the match in big patches however a late push from the Americans saw them equalise with only a few minutes remaining. I find that this situation where a team scores late in a game can lead to one team having the emotions similar to if they had just lost the game and the other team feeling as though all the momentum is theirs. However, both teams are in exactly the same position, with five shootouts per team left to decide the fate of the two nations.
It was important at the conclusion of regular time that our girls refocussed and quickly put aside the disappointment of giving up the lead and potentially a spot in the grand final. As a group we have put a lot of importance on preparing for shootouts and doing our homework on opposition strategies. I was the first of our girls to step up and attempt to score but unfortunately the USA goalkeeper saved my shot on goal. The first emotion was utter disappointment that I had let the team down but I had confidence that the remaining four girls would get the job done for us. Our goalkeeper Rach Lynch had an absolute blinder and saved three out of the four shootouts she faced thanks to her ability to read the play and outstanding agility. When Jodie Kenny put the winning goal in the back of the net the relief and excitement of knowing we had survived the shootouts and reached our goal of playing in the grand final overcame all the girls as they tackled each other to the ground.
The Hockeyroos have come a long way since the last time we were in a World Cup Final, back in 2006 in Madrid. As one of the ‘old girls’ in the team I am the only remaining member of the 2006 team and it is quite pleasing to see how far the team has come after a few lean years. We made a conscious decision a couple of years ago that we would be back playing in the important matches in major tournaments and to the all the girls credit we are now here. It is amazing what can be achieved when a complete commitment is made by a great bunch of players and staff. We know that the job is not yet complete as our biggest challenge is yet to come. A grand final against the Olympic Champions in front of their home crowd of 15000 people dressed in orange. I can’t imagine a better stadium to be playing in.
Settling in now to watch the Aussie men’s team, the Kookaburras, in their semi final against Argentina. C’mon boys!