Dan­son: Wav­ing the Eng­land squad off to SA was weird

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

MY Eng­land team-mates are off to South Africa for train­ing and Test matches and it feels re­ally strange. I am at Bisham a lot train­ing and see them reg­u­larly so it feels dif­fer­ent not be­ing part of it as it’s the first time in prob­a­bly 16 years that I haven’t been away some­where warm for hockey at this time of year – and I’ve re­ally missed it.

I’m re­join­ing the squad in April so I’m cur­rently work­ing hard to stay fit and en­joy­ing my club hockey at Clifton Robin­sons.

The South Africa trip will be par­tic­u­larly spe­cial as some mem­bers of the squad will re­ceive their first se­nior Eng­land cap.

I re­mem­ber my de­but as though it was yes­ter­day – Oc­to­ber 23, 2010 against Ger­many and I was the 16year-old starry-eyed kid who got the chance to play along­side all the play­ers I’d ad­mired, like Jane Smith, Mandy Ni­chol­son and Tina Cullen. We even sang the na­tional an­them, which was a goose-bump mo­ment for me as we hadn’t done any of that at the ju­nior lev­els. For the play­ers re­ceiv­ing their first caps it will be a trip they will never for­get.

It’s been funny be­ing on the edge of things at the mo­ment so I haven’t felt it ap­pro­pri­ate to of­fer ad­vice to any of the new girls – there are plenty of great play­ers who were in­volved in the last Olympic cy­cle who can do that and many of them will al­ready have es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships from their days with the ju­nior teams.

I will, though, be send­ing them good luck mes­sages on the squad’s What­sApp ac­count. We al­ways have one, mainly for lo­gis­ti­cal rea­sons, and I’ll be send­ing my first con­tri­bu­tion and watch­ing any of the games which are be­ing streamed live.

It has been im­por­tant for me to have a break and it has been the long­est lay-off I’ve had since I made my de­but.

It has been strange but re­ally good in terms of my fresh­ness, just get­ting my­self out of a rou­tine and al­low­ing my­self to do things I hadn’t had time to do or had ne­glected like do­ing some work, hav­ing a hol­i­day or a week­end away, or see­ing fam­ily.

I’m at the back end of my ca­reer and I want to be in a place where I can tran­si­tion out of it while be­ing able to give ev­ery­thing I’ve got for what re­mains of my play­ing days.

Places in the squad will be com­pet­i­tive and that is a re­ally healthy en­vi­ron­ment. It’s al­ways been that way and it will be no dif­fer­ent when I re­turn. We all com­pete day in day out for the good of the squad so the most com­pet­i­tive team is rep­re­sented at tour­na­ments.

Peo­ple who don’t play hockey al­ways ask how I can keep go­ing like this for so long but the game is al­ways chang­ing and so does the role of the player within it.

For ex­am­ple, my role changed from Bei­jing to Lon­don, then again from Lon­don to Rio and I’m sure it will do so again in the build-up to Tokyo. You have to learn to play with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, build up dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships and adapt to a dif­fer­ent style and that’s some­thing that I love about the game.

I am also mo­ti­vated by the thought of the home World Cup in 2018 and the Com­mon­wealth Games on the Aus­tralian Gold Coast that year. I’m on the board for the Com­mon­wealth Games and the stuff that goes on be­hind the scenes in or­ga­niz­ing a multi-sport event is phe­nom­e­nal and re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

So I’m look­ing for­ward to re­join­ing the squad in April and I hope the way I be­have and play will add some­thing to the group. In the mean­time, I’m hop­ing to play for Clifton Robin­sons on Satur­day af­ter a scan on my hip, which I’m sure will be fine.

I won’t be play­ing for Clifton in the In­vestec Cup un­less they are short of 16 play­ers. I haven’t played so far there­fore I have not earned my place in the next games. The cup used to have a Euro­pean place up for grabs, so this may re­flect why clubs give op­por­tu­ni­ties to younger play­ers but I still be­lieve it is a pres­ti­gious cup to play for.

Some­times, de­spite hav­ing the right in­ten­tions things read not quite as we in­tend. I know in the past that has hap­pened to me. The Valen­tine’s Day tweet about Eng­land break­ing Dutch hearts may have been one of these mo­ments.

We have a great com­mer­cial depart­ment at Eng­land Hockey and the tweet was rec­ti­fied quickly. Sure, we have beaten the Dutch in two big games re­cently but they are world cham­pi­ons and World No 1 for a rea­son and we have the ut­most re­spect for them. The Olympics have clearly had a big im­pact on hockey as the match is sold out and it’s go­ing to be a crack­ing game.

I’m off to the Palace next week to re­ceive my MBE, which is go­ing to be very, very spe­cial.

My fam­ily are com­ing with me and they are very ex­cited – it’s an­other thing that I would never have dreamed of hap­pen­ing all those years ago when I first started play­ing.

It was sur­real see­ing Kate and He­len Richard­son-Walsh on the front page of The Times this week pick­ing up their hon­ours.

They have done so much for our sport and to get that kind of at­ten­tion was amaz­ing, and well de­served.

One thing wor­ried me though when I saw the pic­ture. They looked stun­ning. They gave me some ideas, but I’m go­ing to se­ri­ously have to step up in de­cid­ing what to wear!

It’s the first time in prob­a­bly 16 years that I haven’t been some­where warm in Fe­bru­ary – and I’ve missed it

Can­ter­bury’s Cindy Botha (left) chal­lenges with Slough’s Jane Smith PIC­TURE: PA

Slough’s Mandy Ni­chol­son (right) gets away from a chal­lenge by Chelms­ford’s Hay­ley Heg­gie

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