Co-captain Eddie Ockenden is hoping it will be fourth time lucky when the Kookaburras meet Belgium in a highly anticipated Olympic Men’s Hockey Final tomorrow night.
The veteran Tasmanian, who holds the Kookaburras games record with 379 appearances and counting, has had his sights set on Olympic glory since claiming bronze medals in 2008 and 2012.
Ockenden, who captains the Kookaburras with West Australian midfielder Aran Zalewski, has achieved almost all there is in world hockey, the only thing missing being an Olympic gold medal.
The 34 year old has been a man on a mission in Tokyo, determined to secure Australia’s first Olympic gold medal since 2004, and only second in the history of men’s hockey at the Games.
The gold medal match against Belgium will be the fifth time the Kookaburras have featured on the Olympic stage’s big dance.
It is an occasion they have only tasted success in once despite reaching the Final in Mexico City, Montreal, Barcelona and Athens.
“I have high hopes and expectations,” Ockenden said.
“Like all of us, it has been super exciting to be named in the team and get the opportunity to go on and compete at the Olympics.
“This has been a very different experience coming into these Games, so I feel like we are experiencing it for the first time together. Ever since last year when the Olympics were postponed we’ve been fuelled by the hope that they were only postponed, not cancelled.
“We put high expectations on ourselves that we want to play our best.”
The Kookaburras are regarded as the most consistently successful Australian sports team over the past two decades and for more than 30 years have been ranked among the top four nations in the world.
They have won every one of the six Commonwealth Games hockey tournaments to date and are one of only three nations to win consecutive World Cups.
Colin Batch’s team remain undefeated throughout the Tokyo tournament. They were tested as they drew with Spain in their final Pool match before beating the Netherlands in a shootout.
Now, after conquering Germany in the Semi-Finals, the Kookaburras will need to overcome a third European powerhouse who have been the other in form team in the tournament, to secure the ultimate prize.
Belgium boast a similar record from their progression in Pool B, having won four matches before drawing their final Preliminary game against Great Britain.
Australia and Belgium have met 42 times previously with the Kookaburras notching 30 wins, seven draws and five losses. Of the five matches Belgium have won, four of them have been in the teams’ last eight meetings, highlighting their progression to being one of the dominant forces in world hockey.
Batch, who helped Australia to two Olympic bronze medals as assistant coach and ironically coached Belgium at the 2012 London Games, believes a depth of talent is the secret to his side’s success.
He has been adamant since arriving in Japan that the Kookaburras would “build into the tournament” to be at their best when it counts.
Pleasingly, the Kookaburras have had a plethora of contributors during this tournament. Ten players have scored goals, with Blake Govers (7), Tim Brand (5) and Tom Wickham (5) enjoying stand out tournaments.
Batch says the even contribution has been a key to the Kookaburras’ success to this point and would need to continue against Belgium.
“We are very pleased to share the goals around,” said Batch.
“It’s important you aren’t relying on just one person all the time.”
“We pride ourselves on being in the right spot. Finishing is important or getting an outcome inside the circle…a penalty corner. We have some good takers of penalty corners and that can be where the game is won and lost.
This could not be truer when it comes to how Belgium have advanced. Drag flick specialist Alex Hendrickx has scored a mammoth 14 goals for the tournament, 12 of which have come from penalty corners.
The Kookaburras will need to be at their best at both ends of the pitch if they are to prevail. They go into the Olympic Final with every reason to believe they can.
Source: Catriona Dixon