Nation’s best face off for SEA Games squad selection
MYANMAR’S annual national hockey tournament wrapped up yesterday with a final pitting Yangon Region against Chin State, but the Hockey Federation is keeping a keen eye on the competitors ahead of the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
One hundred and eighty local athletes representing teams from 10 states and regions took part in the two-week tournament, which was held from October 3 to 17 at Thein Phyu hockey stadium.
Yangon’s finest, perhaps able to capitalise on a hometown familiarity, thrashed their Chin compatriots 5-1, taking home the trophy.
But the players weren’t only putting it all on the line in the spirit of competition: The Myanmar Hockey Federation also used the tournament as a scouting opportunity for Myanmar’s next SEA Games squad.
“We’re currently preparing for the 29th Southeast Asia Games. So while we were looking forward to holding the tournament, we’re also looking to select around 40 players to make up the new national team,” said Saw Lu Lu Htaw, president of the Myanmar Hockey Federation.
At the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, Myanmar’s men’s hockey team took home the bronze medal with a dominating 5-1 performance over Thailand in the consolation round after losing to eventual gold-medal winners Malaysia 2-0. The outlook for 2017 isn’t nearly as bright, however, and not only because the Games will be hosted by Malaysia, the region’s top-seeded team.
“In Kuala Lumpur, we probably won’t be able to earn a medal, because 75 percent of our Singapore squad retired after the 2015 games. We were lucky to be able to field a very senior squad in Singapore, which had a lot of experience playing together, but now we’re facing building a completely new squad and training them for international competition at the same time. But we’ll try our best,” Saw Lu Lu Htaw said.
While they may not be targeting a medal finish just yet, Myanmar’s hockey squad has already signed a Malaysian head coach, and will travel to train with the hosts ahead of the games next August. Malaysia won gold in both the men’s and women’s field hockey at the 2015 SEA Games.
“Next month, we’ll be bringing in a Malaysian head coach to lead the national team, as well as an Australian fitness coach. We’re in a rebuilding phase this year, but we have our eyes set on the 2019 Southeast Asia Games, in the Philippines,” Saw Lu Lu Htaw said.
Yangon team striker Nay Shine, 26, received the best player award from this month’s tournament, but he isn’t satisfied with just the national hardware.
“It’s my dream to be a national team player. If I get a shot, I’ll try my best to represent Myanmar, despite the challenges we’ll be facing in Malaysia,” he told The Myanmar Times.
“In Kuala Lumpur, the field is already very tough: not only the hosts, but Thailand and Singapore also have very strong squads. But I want to be a SEA Games medallist more than anything else. So I’ll be working my hardest to make the national team,” he added.
A Chin player (blue) prepares a cross-field pass in Myanmar’s hockey tournament final, where the hometown Yangon team prevailed, 5-1.