Tasmania’s Kookaburras may have taken flight but their legacy will be felt for years to come.
This is the view of coach Glenn Freeman as he attempts to secure another national title.
A national camp to prepare for next month’s World Cup in India will deprive the Tigers of Eddie Ockenden, Jeremy Edwards and Josh Beltz for their second match in the Australian Hockey League on Sunday.
But Freeman said their impact in last weekend’s opener against Canberra Lakers, combined with the talent in the rest of the squad headlined by dual Olympian Tim Deavin, have the state set up for another generation of hockey success.
“Players like Ed, Deavo, Josh and Jez just attract young players who want to see how they play, and if these youngsters take on their advice about dedication and preparation they can achieve the same goals.
“They are all very passionate Tasmanians and will do anything to encourage Tasmanians to support our sport. You’ve only got to mention their names and people turn up and their passion really helps our situation as a small state.”
Inspired by a regular contribution of Olympians including Penny Dunbabin (1984), Maree Fish (1988), Daniel Sproule (1996 and 2000), Matthew Wells (2000, ’04 and ’08), David Guest (2008), Ockenden (2008, ’12 and ’16) and Deavin (2012 and ’16), the state continues to produce internationals.
Beltz’s younger brother Hayden is also unavailable for the AHL as he is playing for the Australian under-21 side at the Sultan Of Johor Cup where he was among the scorers in a 6-1 win over host country Malaysia.
“We’ve got good players across all age groups and that’s very exciting,” Freeman said. “The Tasmanian Institute of Sport programs bring them through to a standard where national selectors are looking at them.
“I look back at sides we’ve had and they just keep getting better. Since we won the AHL in 2014 we have only just missed out on the last four by a point or percentage and when we do get beaten it is usually only by the odd goal. Go back 20-plus years and you could see some fairly high scores against us.
“We’ve come ahead in leaps and bounds since then. Look at the youth we have in male and female and our future is pretty rosy, we’ve just got to continue on the same path and will be supplying Hockey Australia with players for many years to come.”
Freeman praised the returning internationals for their seamless transition into a Tigers side which thrashed the Lakers 5-1 with a double from Ockenden.
“The Australian guys fitted in perfectly. They have an understanding of what we want and they showed that on Saturday.
“We were very happy with the way we performed. We feel we’re playing a good brand of hockey.
“We scored some good goals and if it was not for the Australian keeper Andrew Charter we would have had a few more.”
Hockey Australia has recalled national squad members from all sides as it seeks to trim the group from 27 to 18 for the World Cup in Bhubaneswar from November 28 to December 16.
Freeman said while it is disappointing to lose such talent, he was confident in the depth of those who remain including Deavin, fellow internationals Kurt Mackey and Jack Welch, last season’s AHL leading scorer Kieron Arthur plus stalwarts of the Premier League like Sam McCambridge, Ben Read and James Bourke.
“Yes it’s disappointing but it’s been in the making for a while so has not just come out of the woodwork and on the other side it means we are giving players opportunities to play in the AHL and show them to the rest of the country.”
The Tigers host NSW at the Tasmanian Hockey Centre at 1pm on Sunday and travel to Brisbane to play Queensland the following Saturday (October 20 at 5pm) before a finals series on the Gold Coast.