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News for 08 April 2020

All the news for Wednesday 8 April 2020

Olivia Merry – the New Zealand ace re-writing the record books

It has been a very fruitful couple of years for New Zealand striker Olivia Merry. Building on the success of the Black Sticks’ first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2018, the prolific goal-scorer was in absolutely devastating form throughout 2019.

Merry played a starring role as her team sealed Olympic qualification by winning the Oceania Cup, as well as finishing top scorer in the 2019 FIH Hockey Pro League with 15 goals in 16 games, five more than Netherlands ace Frederique Matla in second.

Merry’s eye-catching performances earned her a nomination for the FIH Hockey Stars Player of the Year Award for 2019, alongside influential Black Sticks captain Stacey Michelsen, a player who has provided countless assists for Merry down the years.

In 2020, before the COVID-19 global health crisis brought the sporting world to a near stand-still, Merry had been continuing her goal-scoring brilliance whilst simultaneously tearing up the record books. She became the first female player to score four times in a single FIH Hockey Pro League match by netting all of her team’s goals in a 4-1 win over Belgium, taking her international goals tally to 106, breaking the all-time Black Sticks scoring record of 105 set by Anita McLaren (née Punt). Just a few weeks later, Merry claimed another four-goal haul in the Pro League as the Black Sticks claimed a superb 5-3 triumph against Argentina, taking her season’s tally to ten - four more than any other player in the competition.

In the first of a series of profile interviews featuring some of the world’s finest players, Olivia Merry speaks to FIH about her career to date, her personal highlights and more.

Hi Olivia – thank you for talking to us. First things first, what have you been doing to stay active and healthy during the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis?

Olivia Merry: “We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather of late, we’ve sort of been in lockdown for around 12 days now. We’ve got a beach that’s around a five-minute walk from here, so lots of walks and runs. I’m lucky enough to have a 5x5 metre piece of [synthetic] turf, so I’ve managed to do a few small skills on that, but definitely managing to keep busy and keep positive about the whole situation.”

You’ve had a fantastic couple of years with the Black Sticks, winning the Commonwealth Games and Oceania Cup, top scoring in the 2019 Pro League, being nominated for the FIH Player of the Year Award and, most recently, becoming New Zealand women’s all-time top scorer. What are your reflections on these amazing moments?

Olivia Merry: “I guess the Commonwealth Games success was pretty awesome, a massive hurdle for our Black Sticks team to be able to get over. To finally get that win was something pretty special. I guess for us the Oceania Cup qualifier was huge for us too – we knew if we hadn’t won, the teams that we would have had to play to qualify for the Olympics [were good], so that was another huge moment for us. The individual accolades over the last six months have all come as a bit of a surprise. I always like to credit the individual accolades to being part of this amazing Black Sticks team, and like I always say, I’m the lucky one at the end who gets to score the goal. I’m just really happy to be a part of the team.”

Who or what first influenced you to pick up a stick and play hockey?

Olivia Merry: “When I was five years old I had a family friend who needed an extra player for their six-a-side grass team, so off my dad and I went to the hockey shop and bought my first ever wooden hockey stick. Then we went to the sports shop and bought some rugby boots for the grass field and away I was, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Who has been the biggest influence on your career and why?

Olivia Merry: “It would be quite hard to name [just] one, but I guess in my earlier years playing for the province of Canterbury I had some pretty influential coaches there, like Aaron Ford and Chris Leslie. From my Black Sticks career, having a coach like Mark Hager – who was a fantastic striker in his time – coaching me for seven years, and our current coach Graham Shaw have [both] been massive influences on my career. Definitely in the last 18 months, the influence that Graham has brought has been something different.”

If there was a word to sum up your playing style or attitude on the pitch, what would it be?

Olivia Merry: “One of the words I’ve heard a lot in the last three weeks is very competitive, especially when playing board games in our little apartment! That definitely comes to mind. It probably steams onto the hockey field as well, especially in the attacking circle, so probably relentless.”

What moment on the pitch are you most proud of and why?

Olivia Merry: “Probably taking to the pitch for the first time with the Black Sticks [against India in Napier (NZL) in 2012], putting on the silver fern [New Zealand’s famous crest], which was pretty special for me and also my family, who have been my biggest supporters from day one. Being able to step out there is something I’ll never forget and that very few people get to do. To this day it is something very, very special.”

Finally, what would be the best advice you could give to aspiring young hockey players?

Olivia Merry: “Probably just to ride the setbacks. Whether it is injury or form, to just ride the wave of those [setbacks]. I guess the number one thing for me, what I tell younger kids, is to have fun and enjoy themselves.” 

Profile*: Olivia Merry – New Zealand
Nickname: ‘Liv’
Position: Striker
Shirt number: 4
Age: 28
International appearances: 232
International goals: 112
Place of birth: Christchurch (NZL)
Current National Hockey League team: Canterbury (Christchurch)

To see Hockey New Zealand’s profile of Olivia Merry, click here. You can follow Olivia on Instagram using the handle @olivia_merry.
* Information correct as of 6 April 2020.

FIH site

Danson is epitome of ‘total hockey’, says Kate Richardson-Walsh

As part of our 8-page print special to mark Alex Danson-Bennett’s career, we heard from leading figures

By The Hockey Paper

Kate Richardson-Walsh, Rio’s gold medal-winning captain, says Alex Danson has changed the game on a world level following an illustrious career.

Danson ended her formidable 18-year playing career with 306 total caps for England and Great Britain. She scored a joint-record 115 goals, level with Marjorie Pollard.

Richardson-Walsh not only believes that Danson is the best foward Great Britain has produced in women’s hockey. “On a world level, she has changed the game,” added Hampstead’s co-coach.

She said: “The eye for goal, the variety of shots and goals she scored, the PCs, she made herself a specialist on deflections. She scored chips, lobs, forehand, backhand, every kind of goal.

“She’s a total hockey player and would come into midfield to receive the ball. She understands the game and is a real student of the game. More than anything though, it was her will to win, her desire and passion. It was infectious.

“She’s authentic and she’s never felt the need to be anything other than herself and to try and change who she is. She has the strength of knowledge to understand who she is.”

Danson took over the captain’s armband following Richardson-Walsh’s retirement from the international game. And Richardson-Walsh added that the “outpouring of effection” following the news of her retirement backed up her own personal reflections.

She said: “Anyone who played on the pitch with her or watched her, they got it and what she’s about. All the plaudits she got, it could go on forever as there is so much to say about this incredible woman.”

Danson and Luciana Aymar go into battle during one of many tussles WORLD SPORT PICS

What they said

“They had a genuine understanding that it’s about team work and if you get everyone functioning in their role and working hard, then anything is possible.”
Trisha Heberle on Danson and KRW

“She lives to inspire the next generation; it is one of our core values. Her true love is the game and if she can inspire one or two people to be able to fulfill their dreams, that means so much to her.”
Sarah Evans, Surbiton and GB

“She will always be busy, she will always be synonymous with that incredible night in Rio, and she will always hold a special place in the hearts of hockey fans who got to see her play the game and live out her dreams as a professional sports woman.”
Alex’s brother, Ed

“Hockey is going to miss you. It was a huge pleasure to have shared some international tournaments with amazing sportswoman. I wish you all the best.”
Luciana Aymar, Argentina hockey great

“Alex the person is quite simply a wonderful human being. Her integrity, empathy and care for others always shone and continues today. Alex has used her profile for the good of our sport and sport in the wider context. Alex is an example of humility and giving back to sport and people that we can all reflect on. On a personal level I feel humbled to have worked with an athlete of this world leading calibre for so many years whose values always shone through.”
Danny Kerry, former GB women’s coach

“Even in my short space of time here, it’s clear to me the impact that Alex has had on our sport, both on and off the pitch. We will continue to see her legacy for a very long time to come, and the least we can do is thank her in person when we go back to the Stoop later this year.”
Nick Pink, England Hockey chief executive

“I know that the one person I would want on my team is Alex Danson and whether she is having a good game or not she shows that fight and she is a leader on the pitch. She is an absolute inspiration to everyone.”
Susannah Townsend

In lockdown over the coming weeks, we will be reproducing some of our special supplement pieces which celebrated Alex’s career to showcase to non-subscribers what we regularly create in print. Please help to support us ahead of the new season – whenever that may be.

Don’t miss out. Subscribe in print or in digital format.

The Hockey Paper

COVID-19 impact: No international hockey events for India till June

Hockey India informed TOPS CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan about the postponement of events which were a part of its Annual Calendar for Training and Competitions.

Two FIH Pro League ties involving the senior men’s team, the junior men’s Asia Cup and senior women’s Asian Champions Trophy are among a host of international hockey events, where India was scheduled to take part, that have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) CEO Rajesh Rajagopalan, Hockey India informed about the postponement of the events which were a part of its Annual Calendar for Training and Competitions (ACTC).

The junior women’s Asia Cup (April 6-12 in Kakamigahara, Japan), senior women’s team’s tour of Germany and Netherlands (April 11 to April 17, April 18 to April 27), men’s team’s away Pro League matches against Germany and England (April 24 to May 5), junior men’s Asia Cup (June 4 to 12, Dhaka), women’s Asian Champions Trophy (June 14 to 21, Donghae, Korea) and UCD U-23 6-Nations Tournament involving junior women (June 14 to 27, Dublin) are the events which have been affected by the global pandemic.

“The new dates for the above mentioned tournaments will be intimated to SAI once finalised and approved by the International Hockey Federation and the Asian Hockey Federation,” Hockey India executive director R. K. Srivastava said in the letter.

“The approved budget in the ACTC for the period up to 30 September 2020 would be utilised for foreign exposures/tournaments once the new scheduled is worked out post COVID-19 situation,” he added.


Pakistan Hockey players start training at home to maintain fitness

LAHORE: A number of national hockey players have started physical training at their homes to maintain high level of fitness for their possible selection for future international hockey events once the coronavirus pandemic is finally brought under control.

“The players have engaged themselves in physical training on the direction of head coach of the team, former Pakistan captain and Olympian Khawaja Muhammad Junaid and we are confident this practice will help them to maintain good fitness,” said Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary Mohammad Asif Bajwa said on Tuesday.

He said the PHF had received video recordings of different players of national hockey squads in which they are doing physical training and improving hockey skills through various drills. Some of those who have sent videos of their training sessions include Umer Bhutta, Ali Shan, Abu Bakar Mahmood, Azfar Yaqoob, Rana Waheed and Ammad Shakeel Butt.

The PHF secretary said it is a positive sign that players are not sitting idle and making good use of their time.

Junaid, meanwhile, said he would be reviewing all the video recordings of the players to assess their physical fitness to chalk out future plan of training.

“The PHF is taking measures to develop a culture of fitness among the players and it is a good omen that players are taking keen interest in daily home physical training and trying to achieve fitness level while staying indoors,” he said.


Sarah Willis shocked to be named Hockey NSW junior female umpire of the year

Samantha Newsam

Honoured: Sarah Willis said to join many of those that had helped guide her through her umpiring journey was amazing.

Sarah Willis might have first picked up a whistle more through a sense of obligation but in the ensuing years, and as she has developed into one of the state's best, umpiring has blossomed into a real passion for the Tamworth native.

The 20-year old was at the recent Hockey NSW awards named the junior female umpire of the year, an achievement she described as "the biggest shock".

"I was not expecting it at all," Willis said.

"I did not even think I was even capable of achieving that."

She had been told before the night that she was a finalist for the award, but still hearing her name read out, Willis said her heart was racing.

"It was just mind-blowing that I'd done enough with my umpiring over the year that I got recognised," she said.

It comes after a season that saw her umpire at the under-13 nationals, and under-18 state championships, where she officiated the third-fourth play-off.

Willis also umpired at the women's open's state championships - in between playing - which she said was "a big step up" and a good eye opener as to where she needs to step up to in her umpiring.

This year she had been invited to umpire at this month's under-15 nationals in Bathurst and the state under-18s and opens championships. Unfortunately she won't get that opportunity with all national and state championships cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis.

Willis said the news left her a bit deflated. She was getting really excited for the nationals, which were only a month away when the announcement was made.

It has though made her even keener for when the season can finally commence with all hockey-related activities currently suspended until May.

A young Willis (right) with fellow junior umpires Gabbi DAmbros and Jake Sheppeard before the 2013 City-Country matches. Photo: Barry Smith

Willis, who plays first grade for Tudor Wests, was playing in the under-11s when she started umpiring.

"At the time mum (Helen) was stepping up to be the umpire convenor for the junior girls," she recalled.

"Each club was needing umpires to step up so I was like yeah I'll put my hand up for it."

"From there I kept doing it each week and improving."

That then led to offers to umpire at state championships, and from there at the nationals.

She umpired at her first nationals in 2018, the experience then and experiences since serving to kindle aspirations to pursue it as far as she can.

Not an easy job, Willis said she enjoys the environment and the rush of umpiring, and helping other people enjoy the game.

Lamenting the shortage of junior girls coming through, last season Willis took on the role of junior girls umpire development officer for the local association, a role she will again perform this season when it does eventually get up and running.

An example of life coming full circle, she is hoping to instill in them the skills and confidence to be able to step up and umpire in the women's competition, and maybe one day at a state or national level.

The Northern Daily Leader

Eric Denis, RIP

We are saddened to hear today of the death of one of the European hockey family, Eric Denis from Belgium.

Eric, aged 52, had a wonderful career both on and off the pitch. A Belgian Airforce pilot, he subsequently became a pilot for the Belgian Royal family as well as base captain for Norwegian Airlines, working from Barcelona.

He umpired at the highest level; the pinnacle of his career was being a part of the umpiring panel of the World Cup 1998 in Utrecht and of the Sydney Games in 2000.

He was revered, respected and applauded in Belgium for this achievements, but his passion for the game transcended his own top career as he moved to be part of the mentorship of Belgian umpires who have taken up where he had left off.

He became a part of the international group of umpires who gave back to the young and up and coming umpires when he headed up our Umpire Mentor Programme (UDP), giving his time and expertise willingly.

Eric, pictured left, with his beloved UDP umpires and mentors

We extend our deep condolences to his wife Kathy and his sons Maxime and Mathys at this most difficult time.

Eric, gone too soon, may your passion for hockey inspire those you have left behind.

EuroHockey media release 

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