Sunday, October 25, 2009


To get to Hockey New Zealand headquarters in Auckland, you first have to travel to a swathe of industrial land next to the new motorway in the shadow of Mt Roskill.

It's a locale that tells you pretty much all you need to know about a sport that has had to cut back on its spending after government funding agency Sparc sent hockey away from the top table and made it beg for the scraps known as contestable funding.

Hockey has ambitions of one day moving out of the spartan surrounds and into something more corporate. More importantly, within the next few weeks it also hopes to move out of the funding wasteland on the back of outstanding results delivered by the women's team in winning the Champions Challenge in South Africa this month.

Hockey will sit down with Sparc this week to make a plea for more funding for the women's team for next year on the basis it will contest the prestigious six-team Champions Trophy, the 12-team world cup and the Commonwealth Games, where coach Mark Hager is targeting a medal.

To get the most out of those big three tournaments that come in the second half of 2010, Hager says the youthful women's team needs to play plenty of tournaments in the first half of the year and to do that requires an increase in funding.

"If we get what's on our wish list we can plan the first six months of the year. We've got three big events in the second half of next year but now countries are chasing us to play them," Hager says, adding that the Black Sticks have been invited to play a against the Netherlands and China in a Hong Kong tournament, that Japan wants New Zealand to tour there and there are similar calls from South Africa.

"But unless we have that funding we can't do it. We'll put a proposal up and say this is the budget for our wish list and we have to see whether they're prepared to give it to us."

For Hager, who came here from Perth, that would be a massive boost after he took over as the national women's coach just as funding was cut back. He also inherited a team shorn of experience after many senior players quit post-Beijing Olympics. That turned out to be a positive, however.

"It was good luck rather than good management that a few of the older players moved on as it forced us to pick the young up-and-comers; we had no choice but to go to the next group of kids.

"I had a philosophy of an attacking style and I then had to find out what sort of style of players we had; fortunately my style of coaching complemented the the type of players we had - particularly in the forward line where we're now creating a lot of chances and scoring lots of goals."

That was evident at the second tier Champions Challenge tournament, which New Zealand won, earning promotion to the elite top-six Champions Trophy next year.

HAGER, AS a former Olympian and a former Australia women's assistant coach, is well aware of what awaits his young team next year in England.

"We've stepped out of the minors into the big league and I'm sure we'll get questioned, and punished maybe, in some games but until we play at this level we're not going to know what we're capable of."

He says his team is high on raw ability but are still developing their structure and tactical nous.

"When I first got here I was really impressed with the skill level, and the forwards in particular were in front of Australia. But they hadn't learned tactically how to play at international level.

"Every time we play someone now we vary our structure a little bit and they seem to be adapting well but there's such a gap between tours for us that we have to revisit the structure every time because people forget."

Next year's world cup will be big event for the Black Sticks: if they can score a top-eight finish players will be eligible for individual funding from Sparc, starting at $20,000 each if they can finish at least eighth.

"At the moment they are doing it for love and because they're passionate but to give them some financial assistance would be great."

At this point, it's suggested to Hager that the relative youth of the team is bonus when it comes to financial support.

"You're right; they don't know any better because most of them have come into a system where there's no money. It's not like you've given the baby the dummy and then taken it away again."