On Friday night, Eddie Ockenden will equal Jamie Dwyer’s Kookaburras record of 365 games and then set a new benchmark in Saturday night’s second match against Olympic Champions Argentina in Perth.
Fellow Tasmanian Adam Clifford, who currently writes for The Mercury newspaper and has known Eddie since he was a teenager, caught up with the man of the moment to reflect on his journey to the record.
You had success with a number of sports as a kid. What was it about hockey that stood apart from other sports and captured your imagination, both on and off field?
EO: I loved playing a lot of different sports but I realised I wanted to concentrate on hockey because I probably had the most fun and good friends around all the time which makes it more enjoyable. I liked hockey because it was a team sport. I liked the individuals sports as well but the team aspect has always been the most appealing thing about playing hockey to me.
If you weren’t a hockey player, what do you think you would have become?
EO: The other sport I liked the most when I was younger was cricket. If I didn’t play hockey, I would have liked to have pursued another sport because it’s what I really enjoyed so I would have tried that. For a long time it was cricket and hockey being the favourite depending on the season.
When did you first dream of playing hockey for Australia?
EO: I remember wanting to play hockey for Australia at a pretty young age.
As a kid from Hobart, did you ever grow up feeling like playing for your country may be a bridge too far?
EO: Growing up in Tassie you feel a long way away from the rest of Australia. There was always the feeling that we were just a small state but I think it was our own mindset more than anything. I think the traits that come through in Tasmanians that I have played with have been huge strengths.
What’s been the standout achievement for you over your career, if you had to pick just one?
EO: Choosing just one standout is tough and I would go with the Beijing Olympics. Breaking into such a great team when I was still young and being selected for my first Olympics. We won a bronze medal and probably had the team to do better.
The sport has taken you right around the globe, but where is your favourite place to play?
EO: My favourite place to play is in India and the Netherlands. Not surprising as that was where we won both World Cups I’ve been part of but the passion and support from those crowds are incredible. The Netherlands organise amazing tournaments and it’s a great place for hockey.
What benefits did playing club hockey with Laren Hockey Club in the Dutch League have for you early on during your career?
EO: When I played club hockey for Laren for four years, I started when I was young. Living overseas out of your comfort zone in a city like Amsterdam was great. Playing every week over a full season in a great standard is hugely beneficial and playing a different style helps make you well rounded.
On Friday night you will equal and then on Saturday night you will eclipse Jamie Dwyer’s Australian record of 365 matches. How does that sit with you?
EO: Any milestone is fun to be a part of in the team, but it feels a bit different when it is yourself. It’s definitely more fun when a team mate is doing something. I reflect on how lucky I’ve been to play with so many great players and teams. To contribute to success gives you a sense of fulfillment. Jamie is a great friend so it’s something special that we can share but it’s not too much more than that.
Has your flexibility and charmed injury run been the catalyst for this record, or would that under sell your other attributes?
EO: Having positional flexibility is something I trained and learned from a young age. The training we had at the Tasmanian Institute of Sport was about learning all of the fundamentals. I have always thought it helped a lot and knowing the game from all aspects helps your development and understanding.
After such a long career, how have you maintained your passion for the sport and drive towards another Olympics?
EO: The Olympics is such an amazing event. In hockey, every team has trained harder and more professionally than they have at any other stage in the cycle. So you are playing against the absolute best and at the same time you prepare yourself to meet that challenge.
If you could change one thing about hockey, what would it be and why?
EO: Hockey has had some awesome rule changes that have sped up the sport. Certainly, the self-pass rule where you can now play on from a free hit was the best we have seen to increase the speed of the game. Rules around safety have been implemented which help and there are further developments that will be made to keep the game safe for everyone.
What’s your main piece of advice for junior players?
EO: Advice to junior players would just be to enjoy the game. Enjoy playing but also enjoy trying to become as good as you can be if you find you are that way inclined. Be inclusive and always put the team ahead of yourself.