Smith confident for Games

Black Sticks Hockey coach Darren Smith at the King’s High School Turf yesterday. PHOTO: PETER...
Black Sticks Hockey coach Darren Smith at the King’s High School Turf yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Black Sticks coach Darren Smith has a long list of improvements he would like to see his side make before the Olympics.

But Smith, who was in Dunedin yesterday to visit the new hockey facility at King’s High School, was not too despondent about the Black Sticks recent 4-0 series defeat to a quality Australian outfit.

After a 15-month Covid-19 hiatus, the national side was always going to be rusty.

The side will get another opportunity to even the ledger when it heads to Perth later this month.

"[The series] didn't go the way we wanted but we had moments where it was," Smith said.

"But there were moments where the Australians got the better of us.

"I think we just need to be a bit tighter.

"I'd love to see the boys with a bit more confidence on the ball and to have our share of possession.

"We also have to be aware of the Australians and what they're doing on their possession and how they go about the game.

"So trying to negate that and get a bit more of a footing through the games."

Details are slowly beginning to emerge of what the Black Sticks will face when they get to Tokyo.

"It's going to be a weird Olympics."

New Zealand has controlled Covid-19, but Japan is struggling with a fourth wave of the virus.

"I wouldn’t be human if I said that I wasn’t very wary of it and also I’m leading a programme where I'm taking some guys in there too.

"So we're going to have to work really closely with [officials] and make sure that we're following the protocols."

The squad for the Olympics is set to be officially announced next week. Smith has already made the congratulatory calls, though. He has also made the other type.

He had 22 players involved during the recent series against Australia, but can only take 16 to Tokyo.

Some of the successful players will, no doubt, still be harbouring regrets about what happened in the quarterfinal against Germany at the Rio Games five years ago.

Germany scored twice in the final minute to snatch a dramatic 3-2 win.

As painful as the memory is, it is not a prohibited topic. The Black Sticks do talk about it.

To reach the playoff stage again the Black Sticks will have to get out of a tough pool which includes India, Australia and Argentina.

But Smith is confident he has the talent in the squad to make that happen.

"We've got to get the little things right. Our patterns are going to have to be good.

"But, absolutely, we've got a quality outfit."

Smith grew up in Dunedin and honed his hockey skills at King’s during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Looking around at the new facility, which is set for its official opening on July 26, he was in awe of what had been achieved.

"Where we are standing was the No 1 hockey pitch back in my day and it was a little bit bubbly. But now it's perfectly smooth and looks magnificent. It is a beautiful surface and I’m so happy to see it here.

"King’s has a fond place in my heart."

There are a few finishing touches to be completed before the venue’s coming out. It cost a little more than $2million but will allow the city to extend its hockey offering and host national and international tournaments.

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