Thursday, August 13, 2009


History shows winning wars isn't all about what happens only in the frontline of battlefields.

A lot of time and effort go into the logistics of what the enemy's characteristics are, pertaining to their previous encounters.

That's the mindset, Black Stick Shea McAleese reckons, the New Zealand men's hockey team must adopt to gain the upper edge on the Malaysians.

The tourists' results against Australia before they arrived in New Zealand suggest it's important to hit them first, hard and early.

"The main thing is you need to score first and make them play some hockey," he tells SportToday before tonight's (6.30) third test at the Kelt Capital Hockey Stadium, in Park Island, Napier.

He dismisses suggestions the Malaysians are adapting to New Zealand conditions and warming up to the task after a 3-0 loss in the opening clash and a 1-1 stalemate in Palmerston North. Countering that theory, he believes Canberra's colder climes would have prepared the tropical dwellers for anything here, weather-wise.

The Sticks, he says, started poorly in Palmerston North on Tuesday night, enabling the Malaysians to settle in.

"They scored early in the first five to 10 minutes and defended well," he says, emphasising that it is wiser for top-eight countries to play against lower-ranked nations in that style.

The 16th world-ranked Malaysians, he says, are outstanding defenders and their tactic is to score early, then close shop. That was reflected in their 1-0 win against the Aussies. When the Australians scored first the tourists lost by margins of 9-1 and 11-3.

"That means when you score against them first they are forced to push up the field to score and that opens up their defence on the other end."

Implementing a New Zealand game plan of applying pressure from the first 20 minutes will see Malaysia play into their hands tonight. He claims a host of things unsettled the Sticks in Palmerston North in their last match. The lengthy national anthems, coupled with a school haka, meant they cooled down after a rigorous warm-up session.

"We were standing around for seven to eight minutes after warming up."

McAleese accepts the Sticks have been in similar situations and the next two nights in Napier won't be an exception.

"So we'll meet again and do a couple of shuttles and have a chat."

Another pivotal part of the Sticks' culture is the individual and team analyses to lift standards. They are "clipped" during matches. They then sit down with coach Shane McLeod to reassess performances.

"For example, every time I touch the ball it's clipped. If I have 30 touches, then we look at how many of those were successful ones.

"As individuals, we always strive for perfection. It's part and parcel of wanting to be better."

The 78-test veteran midfielder reiterates his eagerly awaited chance tonight to play for the first time in front of a home crowd and his sponsors.

"It's almost a dream come true, so it'll be awesome."

He doesn't think there'll be any more pressure to perform at home.

Having represented his country in the Beijing Olympics Games is the highest level of pressure, so McAleese doesn't envisage any problems.