Eye on the future for Black Sticks coach

Black Sticks coach Darren Smith juggles the ball at the McMillan Hockey Centre in Dunedin...
Black Sticks coach Darren Smith juggles the ball at the McMillan Hockey Centre in Dunedin yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Black Sticks coach Darren Smith has one eye on Tokyo and the other on Paris.

Smith is in Dunedin this week to check in with the identified players in the region.

The 46-year-old former international told the Otago Daily Times next year’s Olympics in Tokyo was important, but he is also very keen to see how the next crop of players are developing.

The Paris Olympics will come around fast and there is the Commonwealth Games in 2022 to look forward to as well.

He ran a training session yesterday morning which included the likes of Dylan Thomas, Zeke Buschl and Ward brothers, Jordan, Finn and Patrick. Tessa Jopp made an appearance as well.

Some of those players are likely to be involved in Paris.

"It is a good chance to touch base ahead of these series of games they have coming up," Smith said.

The series of games Smith is talking about is the inaugural premier league, which gets under way later this month.

It will involved four men's and women's teams and will double as a selection event as the Black Sticks look to build towards next year’s postponed FIH Pro League and the Olympics.

The Ward brothers and company will join the likes of Hugo Inglis, Blair Tarrant, Kane Russell, Malachi Buschl and Nick Elder in a quality line-up.

While the premier league is an important event in terms of building for the Olympics, it is also a wonderful opportunity to assess how the next generation are shaping up.

It will be interesting to see how they compare with some of the more established players.

"It is really important we see the next layer and see guys like Finn Ward, who is a very talented boy, in that competition against the Black Sticks and see what he’s got, along with a whole lot of the others.

"It is going to be good fun, it is going to be high quality and I think the players will really enjoy it."

The Black Sticks beat Argentina, the Olympic champion, in their last game before Covid-19 shut sport down across the globe.

In that sense the postponement of the Olympics from 2020 to 2021 probably did not come at the best time.

But the delay will allow star striker Inglis extra time to recover from back surgery, and Smith felt there were other positives.

"It gives us another year, and it is what it is, anyway."

Hockey New Zealand cancelled all representative tournaments this season, which Smith said would set back the development of some players.

However, the game is funded from the grassroots up. So by focusing on club hockey and removing the expense of representative programmes, the game will be better placed to rebound.

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