Men’s head coach Cheslyn Gie has placed the continued growth of the national men’s hockey team top of his priority list following their qualification for the Olympic Games.
In a sensational finish to the African qualifying tournament in Pretoria at the weekend, South Africa pulled off a thrilling 2-1 victory over Egypt in the final to book their spot in France next year.
The 33rd Summer Olympiad will take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11.
There was plenty of drama as SA and Egypt duelled for the honours on Sunday, with the north African team equalising within two minutes after the Proteas had taken the lead.
Ryan Julius then put SA ahead with four minutes remaining after a lengthy review allowed the goal to stand, only for Egypt to put the ball in the net with 30 seconds left.
This also went to a review, but this time the goal was disallowed, sending the delirious South Africans to Paris.
Madibaz Sport hockey manager Gie, who was appointed national mentor in April, had emotions that ebbed and flowed between extreme excitement and relief at the end of the match.
“We went into the game as favourites and that tag put some pressure on the young team but it was pure excitement at the end of it all,” he said.
“This is a massive step forward for SA men’s hockey as we have a talented group of players.
For the team’s continued growth, Gie said it was imperative that they participated in the biggest tournaments on the international stage.
“The Olympics is important not just for them, but also for hockey in our country.”
Their mental application stood out for him during the African qualifiers.
Grinding out this victory under difficult circumstances while not being at their very best is a good example.
“The team effort will hold us in good stead going forward,” Gie said.
The coach now has his focus on the building blocks they want to put in place ahead of the Olympics and is banking on significant support.
A lack of funding is often a stumbling block in the sport so they are working on securing backing from various role-players to support their preparations.
“Our target is to play as many Tests as we can. We have international matches planned for Cape Town in January against France, the Netherlands and India.”
The Proteas will then attend the All-Africa Games in March and the Nations Cup in Poland in late-May.
“This will be complemented by a number of training camps and, finally, a selection camp in Europe just before the Games.”
Gie felt this was a golden opportunity to keep the sport on the international map.
“It means the world to us as a team to have achieved this qualification and to have the opportunity to represent our country on the world stage,” he said. “We have learnt to trust the process.”
The only thing that stands between the team and competing for honours at major events is support.