Relief was the overriding reaction from Carterton’s Dane Lett as the Black Sticks booked their place in the men’s hockey tournament at the Paris Olympics.
But the Kiwis did it the hard way scoring two goals in the final quarter to beat Pakistan 3–2 in a nervy third-fourth playoff in the qualification tournament in Oman.
“There was quite a bit riding on it, so once we got that third and fourth playoff, it was do-or-die, and by the time the final whistle goes, it was sort of relief because you’ve been working towards it for a while, and the whole reason you went there was to qualify so I was just happy we got it done finally,” Lett said.
However, the 116-test defender admitted to some nerves heading into the second half, trailing Pakistan 2–1
“It was a bit of a strange feeling. I’ve had that feeling a few times when it’s an important game and it’s not quite clicking for the team, and you can feel the match starting to slip away and I was starting to feel a bit like that in the second half.
“There were a few nerves around, but I just thought if you don’t qualify, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, if you’ll play again or what, and a few of us said it might be our last half of hockey so let’s go out and have a crack and have some fun and tried to take a bit of the pressure off and play with a bit of freedom which worked pretty well for us, it just took us a while to put the ball in the net.”
It took until seven minutes in the last quarter for New Zealand to equalise through Hugo Inglis and in the 58th minute for Scott Boyde to give them the lead.
“They were kind of opportunistic goals, ones that you wouldn’t expect to score, certainly the last, where the ball just flies in and takes a deflection, and there’s a touch there. We probably missed the ones we should have got, but that’s the way it goes sometimes; you just have to get in the right position and hope it falls your way and you put it in.”
Lett said there was little time for nerves to set in after taking the lead with the focus on finishing the job and booking the plane trip to Paris.
“There was a bit of stoppage there and a couple of referrals and a corner, so it took quite a while, but I think it’s a lot easier when you’re on the field than watching, and I saw a video of the people on the bench, and it looked a bit more nerve-wracking for them.” Should Lett, 33, be selected for Paris [and it would be a surprise if he wasn’t], it will be his second Olympics after the Covid-impacted 2020 Tokyo, in which the Black Sticks finished a disappointing ninth, although he admits he hasn’t looked too far ahead.
“I haven’t thought too much about that; it’s all been about making sure there’s an opportunity to go, so the main thing was to qualify, and if we didn’t, that would take it out of my hands, and now that’s ticked off, the next part is for me to get everything in line so they want me in the team, and it will be my last one and I won’t be around for the next one so it’s my last opportunity to play at the Olympics.
“I’ve been there and done it, so it’s not so much about going there; it’s about trying to do well at the Olympics. That’s the goal and trying to get something out of it, ideally a medal and being really competitive.”
Lett will take a brief break from hockey before starting the Wellington season with Dalefield, followed by a probable international tour in May, the Nations Cup in June and the Olympics in late July.