Boys from Dunedin together in Tokyo

Otago and New Zealand team-mates (from left) Nick Ross, Kane Russell and Blair Tarrant. PHOTOS:...
Otago and New Zealand team-mates (from left) Nick Ross, Kane Russell and Blair Tarrant. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Four school friends from Dunedin will line up beside each other at the Tokyo Olympics hockey turf. Adrian Seconi caught up with Black Sticks striker Hugo Inglis before he set off with his mates on a quest for glory.

Remember the days of the old schoolyard?

It is not just a Cat Stevens classic — it is a shared history for Hugo Inglis, Blair Tarrant, Nick Ross and Kane Russell.

Hugo Inglis in action for the Black Sticks earlier this year.
Hugo Inglis in action for the Black Sticks earlier this year.
Wind the clock back 15 or so years and the Black Sticks quartet were still in short pants and honing their fledgling hockey skills at Otago Boys’ High School.

Last Saturday, they left for Tokyo with the other members of the Black Sticks Olympic squad.

It is an extraordinary story, really.

Four boys from the same city, the same school and the same First XI made their way to the top of the international game.

Inglis got there first. The experienced striker will be attending his third Olympics.

Tarrant and Russell will notch their second, while Ross will make his Olympic debut.

"It is pretty bloody special," Inglis said.

"Me and Rossy grew up playing together since we were about 5 or 6 years old.

"To run out alongside him at the Olympics, and to have Kane and Blair there as well, will be amazing.

"The four of us have been playing hockey together for the better part of 20 years."

Perhaps it will be the last time the four play together.

Inglis had back surgery in 2020 and had wondered whether he would be fit in time to make the Olympic squad.

The 30-year-old had a further setback at the beginning of this year when his back got sore again.

"Who knows what happens after the Olympics for each of us? Having had the back injury, you certainly don’t take any games for granted these days.

"It is going to be pretty special when we get to Japan and put on that black shirt together."

Inglis has banged in 66 goals in 237 games for his country.

Tarrant, who captains the team, has made 217 appearances, and Russell (167) and Ross (133) have also reached triple figures.

Russell has a reputation as one of the best drag flickers in the game. The defender has slotted 71 goals and most of them have been from penalty corners.

"It is great for me having those guys in the team because I know when they are looking [to hit the ball] forward, I know exactly what sort of passing range they have, so it is a blessing having those guys there". Inglis said

"[Tarrant] can pick me out on a dime nine out of 10 times. We are pretty fortunate to have those connections and that has gone a long way towards our success together.

"A lot of it goes back to Nick’s dad, Dave. He coached us through rep hockey.

"It is just the values and the training ethic he instilled in us which prepared us for success. We were super fortunate to have had that guidance and direction from that young age."

The Black Sticks are in Pool A and open their campaign against India on Saturday at 1pm (NZ time).

It is going to be a strange Olympics. Covid-19 has seen to that.

The events will be held at empty stadiums and athletes will be confined to their own particular bubbles.

There is also widespread opposition within Japan to the Games going ahead.

The Black Sticks got an insight into what it might be like while in Perth for the recent series against Australia.

They had to wear masks and were restricted to their hotel rooms.

But that was no bother, really.

"A lot of people, when they watch sport, think that you go away on a big holiday," Inglis said.

"But the reality is we go to play hockey, so for us all that stuff is by the by and I’m just looking forward to playing with my really good mates ... and seeing what we can accomplish."

■Otago will have another Olympian at Tokyo.

Central Otago’s Tessa Jopp has been added to the Black Sticks squad.

She was initially named as a reserve, but a late rule change has led to each national team being allowed to include two extra players.

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