Dane Lett battling for the ball against India in last week’s Commonwealth Games semifinal. The Black Sticks won 3-2 to advance to the final where they lost to Australia. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

HOCKEY
GARY CAFFELL

Dalefield player-coach Dane Lett is not a man to rest on his laurels.

Literally just back from helping the Black Sticks men’s hockey team to a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, Lett was at a Dalefield training session on Tuesday night as they prepared for a Wellington premier division match against Northern United at Clareville on Saturday.

Not that Lett was complaining. In fact, he was brimming with enthusiasm about the prospect of reverting from the intense competition of the Games to being part of a Dalefield squad looking to build further on the successes of the past three seasons which produced premier division titles in 2015 and 2016. They were runners-up last year.

“It’s a big challenge for us. We’re missing a few key players, but we’ve got some really promising youngsters coming on and it’s going to be interesting to see how they develop,” Lett said, adding that the 2-1 win over Victoria University when Dalefield kicked off their latest campaign in his absence last weekend was a “pretty good start”.

Reflecting on the Blacks Sticks’ performance, Lett said the silver medal was not altogether a surprise although they were fourth seeds at the Games behind Australia, India and England. They were confident that if they played to their potential, a spot in the final was a clear possibility.

“We knew we had the team to get that far – it was just a case of performing well game after game and we managed to do that.”

Dane Lett [centre holding son, Rio] and the ‘Lett’s Go Dane’ squad. From left: Kelsi Rutene [Dane’s partner], Lily McGilvary [Trent’s partner], Mum Karen, Dad Bernard, and brother, Trent. PHOTO/SUPPLIED.

The Black Sticks saw their opening pool match against Canada as hugely important. It was crucial to boost confidence by getting off to a good start and they had struggled to impose themselves on the Canadians in previous matches.

“We put a lot of emphasis on not only winning that game but winning it comfortably. To get there by four goals was a good result for us – it set us up nicely for what was to come.”

Once Canada was despatched, with Lett scoring one of his team’s six goals, the onus was on the Black Sticks to virtually guarantee themselves a semifinal spot by beating lower-ranked sides, South Africa and Scotland, in following pool games.

And when that was achieved without too many hassles, they headed into a semifinal against a powerful India squad with the winner there guaranteed at least a silver medal.

For Lett and his fellow Black Sticks, there was only one tenable result. “Knowing we would medal if we won was certainly a huge incentive, nothing else would have been good enough.”

The Black Sticks won 3-2 in a thrilling match but whether the effort took some toll on them physically and mentally when they lost 2-0 to Australia in the final is something Lett admits is open to debate.

“We certainly fought as hard as we could and kept them honest but maybe that semi did take a bit of the edge off us. We’re weren’t quite as precise as we wanted to be.”

Having said that, Lett is confident the squad of Black Sticks have the talent to seriously challenge the Aussies’ dominance on the world stage, hopefully starting with the World Cup in India at the end of the year.

“The Aussies are the benchmark, but we are getting close and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t knock them off their perch any time soon.”

As to his own form on the Gold Coast, Lett was typically reticent to wax lyrical although the fact he was given plenty of game time in each of the Black Sticks matches would suggest his pre-Games objective to cement a permanent sport in the national side may well have been achieved.

“I was pretty happy, I mean you always tend to think you could have done better but it was an awesome experience and it was just great to be part of it.”