Sport

Kookaburras forward Blake Govers on the hurdles faced by professional hockey players and the bittersweet moment he was selected for the 2018 World Cup. By Paul Connolly.
Credit: SUPPLIED

Hockey mountains: Blake Govers, 22, hockey player

I’m a bricklayer by trade but I don’t do much of it anymore. It’s hard to balance work with hockey. The Kookaburras [the national men’s hockey team] train every morning from 6 to 9.30, so no boss wants you coming in that late in the day.

It’s difficult to make ends meet. We’re funded by the Australian Institute of Sport, there are endorsements, and I get a few bits and pieces from playing, coaching and bricklaying – but there’s nothing permanent. It makes it difficult to get loans for cars and houses, to prove a steady income.

Hockey still flies under the radar in Australia, at least outside of the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Cup. That’s disappointing because we’re ranked No. 1 in the world [with the women’s national team ranked No. 3] and have been a very successful team for a long time. It’s one of the sports that people want to know about, that people are interested in, but it’s not accessible for them because [of a relative lack of media coverage]. Other sports are more in their face so it’s easier for people to follow those ones.

Two years ago I played for a club team in Holland. It’s a different world. [There] hockey is on TV all the time, it’s all over the papers, it’s a massive sport. You’re out having a coffee and you see someone ride past on a bike and they’ve got a hockey stick with them. A minute later you see another one. It’s refreshing.

Growing up in Wollongong I was mad for all sport. So were my three older brothers. But at one point Mum got so sick of driving all four of us all over the place for different sports that she said, “Right, that’s it, you’re all playing the same sport at the same place!”

Choosing hockey was easy. My dad was a good hockey player when he was young, and he’d introduced us to the sport. Also, before we moved to Albion Park, we lived next to Wollongong University where we joined the university club team. And the four of us spent lots of time practising on the hockey field by ourselves. Because I was the youngest, my brothers made me be goalie. You have to be a maniac to be a goalie but I loved having balls fired at me. Mum didn’t want me to be a goalie, however, because all the padding you need to wear is expensive. I became a forward.

Years later I was accepted into the New South Wales Institute of Sport. At the same time I was doing my bricklaying apprenticeship. So I’d be up at 5.30am to get to work and after work I’d drive to Sydney for NSWIS training and not get home until 9.30pm. I’d then do it all again the next day. It was tough going for a while but it gave me discipline and I was determined to see how far I could go with my hockey.

After I finished my apprenticeship I decided to have a year in England, playing for Wimbledon Hockey Club. I played alongside some Olympians in a successful team and it helped lift me. When I returned home, at 18, I was selected to debut for Australia. My brother Kieran – who’d represented Australia 99 times by that stage, and had played in two World Cup-winning teams – presented me with my shirt. That was special.

Kieran and my other brothers have always kept an eye out for me, helping me when they can. Kieran and I spent time together as Australian teammates and when I first moved to Perth, where the Kookaburras are based, he’d give me the ins and outs. But he knew when to sit back and let me learn things for myself.

I was in the Australian squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics and I’ve just been selected to play in the World Cup [currently taking place in Bhubaneswar, India]. I got the phone call from head coach Colin Batch, whose voice stays the same whether he has good news or bad news. It was the longest 10 seconds ever before he got around to telling me I’d been selected. But it was a bittersweet moment because Kieran missed out. But Kieran is over the moon for me and so supportive.

My current goal is for the Kookaburras to win the World Cup. We’ve a strong team and we’re determined. It’s amazing Australia is so strong in hockey. We haven’t had the foundations to be a top sport. Haven’t had an abundance of money and support. People just make do. But the hockey community is so tight and so supportive. There’s this blue‑collar Aussie fighting spirit. It’s what we pride ourselves on to get the job done.

This week’s highlights…

Cricket: WBBL – Perth Scorchers v Hobart Hurricanes

Saturday, 10.40am (AEDT), CitiPower Centre, St Kilda

Soccer: A-League – Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC

Saturday, 5.35pm (AEDT), Central Coast Stadium, Gosford

W-League – Melbourne City v Adelaide United

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEDT), C. B. Smith Reserve, Fawkner, Melbourne

• Basketball: FIBA World Cup qualifier – Boomers v Qatar

Monday, 7.35pm (AEDT), Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

• Hockey: Men’s World Cup – Australia v England

Tuesday, 10.30pm (AEDT), Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar, India

Cricket: Australia v India, 1st Test, day 1

Thursday, 10.30am (ACST), Adelaide Oval

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 1, 2018 as "Hockey mountains". Subscribe here.

Paul Connolly
is a freelance journalist and the editor of the anthology Father Figures.