Walsh feeling benefits of mini-revolt

28 July 2012 / 14:14

Great Britain women's Hockey captain Kate Walsh believes their progression to Olympic medal contenders was born of a mini-revolt by players eight years ago.

Following the team's failure to qualify for the 2004 Athens Games - their male counterparts did go to Greece but finished a disappointing ninth - senior players decided to take a stand.

They approached the sport's hierarchy and demanded a more professional and coherent approach to their Olympic preparations.

Traditionally the home nations only combined to play together a year before the Games and it left them little time to gel and develop a proper strategy. The players felt this acutely and made their feelings known in the wake of their Athens disappointment.

"The lowest point was not qualifying for the Olympics in 2004," Walsh, playing in her third Games, told Press Association Sport.

"Straightaway after that the players went to the GB Hockey Board, which was unprecedented, with a letter saying we wanted to compete as Great Britain for four years because we couldn't do it as a 10-month thing. It didn't happen at the time but I believed it would."

Many players were left wondering whether to quit after their failure to qualify in 2004 and Walsh admits even she considered it, albeit briefly. But the arrival of new head coach Danny Kerry soon produced renewed optimism

"With Danny coming in in 2005 he had aspirations and always wanted more so I felt 'No actually, I am going to stay in this'," added the 32-year-old Reading defender, who has been captain since 2003 and will proudly lead her side out in their first group match against Japan on Sunday.

"Danny pushed it in 2008/09 and it meant we got the change, which I always felt was on the cards. It was a really big thing. Had we not done that (writing the letter) at the time it may not have come into people's minds further down the line.

"It also meant Scotland and Wales were talking about it so it was not as much of a shock when it happened in 2009. All the associations have worked really well together to put Great Britain first and that has been really important."

The effects of training full time are plain to see with the team rising up from ninth in the world in Beijing four years ago to fourth now.

Since coming together for their central programme Great Britain or England have won bronze at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup (both 2010), twice come third at the European Championships and have bronze and silver medals from the Champions Trophy.

"When we formed this squad in the central programme we had a difficult conversation about what our vision would be," said Stockport-born Walsh.

"It was quite difficult to say we believe we can win gold. We put it out there in 2009 and that has shaped the way we train and that has built momentum.

"It will be devastating if we do not win a medal."

Kerry admits his preparation for the first game has been made more difficult by Japan choosing not to schedule competitive matches in the run-up to the Games.

"They have been very crafty and they have played no hockey since the qualifier against anyone," he said.

"Normally I like to go well armed by having a good look and getting some good footage so we haven't seen them."

He joked: "It's very unsporting-like of the Japanese and I need to have a word with them."