An increased strength in depth and wealth of international experience means Great Britain’s men’s hockey team are well equipped to deal with the pressure of Olympic qualification, according to captain Barry Middleton.
Middleton and his team are currently over in the Belgium city of Antwerp contesting the Hockey World League Semi Final.
A top three finish will ensure they book their place at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio – a feat managed in style by their female counterparts in Valencia as they won seven on the spin to take overall gold last weekend.
The men’s campaign has got off to a slightly slower start however – unbeaten in their opening two games although both of those have been 2-2 draws against hosts Belgium and then Ireland.
There is certainly no need for panic yet in the British camp with the top four teams in each pool progressing through to the quarter-finals.
Quickly closing in on 350 combined international caps, Middleton has plenty of experience when it comes to dealing with major tournaments, finishing ninth, fifth and fourth in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He is not the only seasoned member of the team either, with Ashley Jackson and Iain Lewers among others passing appearance milestones in recent weeks – Jackson with 200 international appearances and Lewers 50 Great Britain caps.
And with that in mind, Middleton believes the side, who take on China next on Thursday, is in a much better place to bid for success at the highest level.
“With London we did not have to go through qualification as we qualified automatically. You do not realise how much you take it for granted,” he said.
“It’s quite a nervous time but the squad is relishing it. We want to secure qualification at the earliest opportunity, that’s the plan.
“We’re confident in Antwerp, although it obviously comes down to each game and getting everything right on the day.
“Ashley Jackson is a massive player, one of the best in the world. He is the type of player we want in our team.
“But we are not reliant on just one player. It’s a nice mix we have in the team. We have been together a couple of years now and we have a lot of experience.
“That has not always been the case, before it was a case of maybe five or six players being experienced but now everyone has a lot of caps.
“It makes such a difference. You can’t underestimate experience at international level hockey.”
Currently the most capped England and Great Britain member in the squad, 31-year-old Middleton first turned out internationally in 2003.
And while not getting any younger, the Holcombe midfielder insists he is not thinking about hanging up his hockey stick any time soon.
“I feel like that last two or three years I have probably been playing the most consistent I have done internationally,” he added.
“I try and judge myself on international hockey. And I feel like I am in a good place at the moment.
“A lot of players who have been through it say the ages of 29,30,31 are often when you feel the best. I’ve been fortunate that I have not got too many injuries.
“I’m not getting any younger but I feel like I’ve got hopefully another ten years of playing hockey in me.”
© Sportsbeat 2015