This year will be the sixth time hockey has been contested at the Commonwealth Games and, in the words of Australia mens’ head coach Colin Batch, “the competition has never been so tight”.
Taking centre stage at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre will be the top 10 men’s and women’s teams from across the Commonwealth and it promises to be a real hockey spectacle as countries as diverse as Scotland, South Africa, Ghana and Malaysia bring their own brand of hockey to the party.
Many of the match-ups that will take place at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre do not usually occur during the course of international competition, which makes the encounters all the more exciting. Wales women, for example, are raring to go against Malaysia and India, two teams they would not usually play.
“We have been developing our own identity and our own style of play,” says head coach Kevin Johnson. “I am expecting the team to play with courage and quickly adapt to playing our game against other playing styles.”
Australia men have dominated the Commonwealth Games hockey competition, winning all five previous editions. They have only lost one game in the entirety of the competition, losing to South Africa in the pool matches in 1998. In the same year, the Kookaburras were taken to penalty strokes by England in the play-off round but came through by a narrow margin to secure a place in the final.
This year, Australia are sitting at number one in the FIH Hero World Rankings and are confident after a strong winning performance at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. However, there are a number of teams lining up to give the Kookaburras a tough test, particularly as eight of the 10 teams will also be participating in the Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup later in the year.
South Africa are resurgent and looking to show they are worthy of a place at the top international events; Canada has an experienced and tough squad who always step up on the big stage and both England and India are looking for a win at a major tournament after some good preparations.
The women’s event has been a more closely contested event over the previous 20 years. Although Australia has won four of the five titles, in the past two editions, it has really gone to the wire.
In 2010 New Zealand’s Clarissa Eshuis scored in the final action of the match to make the score 2-2 and send the game to penalty strokes. The Australia players held their nerve to win the match 4-2.
In 2014, England came within 12 seconds of winning gold. They were leading 1-0 through a Lily Owsley goal going into the final minute of play but Jodie Kenney broke English hearts when she scored a penalty corner to even the match. Australia won on shoot-out after Casey Eastham, Georgie Parker and Madonna Blyth all found a way past Maddie Hinch in the England goal.
With the start of the Games just a few days away, the teams are converging on the Gold Coast. Scottish player Lucy Lanigan summed up the excitement as she prepared to travel to Australia: “It won’t be easy with our pool [where they face Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ghana] but what a thrill to be playing the home nation in a Commonwealth Games. That will be a life experience and a memory to remain with you forever.”
Tickets for some matches at the XXI Commonwealth Games are still available. Click here to find out more