Hayward set to reach 150

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With his athleticism and power, it’s not difficult to imagine Jeremy Hayward bounding off the half back line starring in the AFL.

“I often wonder if I would be able to make it into the AFL and play football for a living.”

“Who knows, but if a category B rookie spot might become available on a club’s playing list, I will be ready,” Hayward says tongue firmly in cheek.

Kookaburras Head Coach Colin Batch needn’t worry though, because despite being elite at a number of sports growing up, Hayward resisted their overtures in favour of hockey due to the mateship it provided.

“I had great bonds with the boys I played hockey with back in Darwin, and now great bonds with the guys I’m playing with in Perth. It was and still is about fun for me,” Hayward adds.

“Growing up in Darwin, it was so easy to get around the place and this allowed me to play multiple sports.”

“With hockey, growing up I was often playing above my age group in national tournaments but that helped me learn.”

It’s been nearly six years since the 27 year-old made his Kookaburras debut against China at the Azlan Shah Cup in 2014.

“I honestly can’t remember much about the call up and the game, other than my mother surprised me with a visit to Malaysia to be there.”

Hayward is widely expected to bring up his 150th game milestone against world number two Belgium in the Kookaburras’ opening Pro League match on Saturday in Sydney.

It gives the composed defender a moment to indulge in reflection of the highs the sport has presented him.

“My favourite memory would be beating the Dutch in the Netherlands in the World Cup Final. I was so young at the time and maybe didn’t realise how big an effort that was being so naïve, but it’s something I grow more and more proud with each day that passes.”

“Winning the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast with my family watching in the stands and playing in Mark Knowles’ last game for Australia is also right up there.”

“But I never think about total games played. I just really love playing hockey and love competing and have enjoyed my hockey journey all the way.”

Hayward’s positive nature is also on full display when asked about missing the Rio de Janiero Olympic side.

“That was a tough blow but I learnt so much from the experience. Something so negative at the time turned out to be a positive in so many ways.”

“150 games experience now allows me to help guide the young talent, but also the young guys coming into our squad have taught me things that help me improve my game.”

“Approaching these Olympics, you can’t rest on your laurels because you need to always keep improving.”

“Once you’re comfortable, you are satisfied and that’s when other people start to get better than you.”

In a unique situation, Hayward’s older brother Leon is a former Kookaburra goalkeeper capped 13 times, and he says Jeremy was always destined to go far with his sport.

“Athletics, football, gymnastics, rugby league, you name it he was good. I guess he was just gifted by whoever was giving out genetics,” Leon says.

“However, he’s not good at everything because Jeremy’s nickname was ‘Weasel’ for a long period of time because he basically never bought any drinks and just weasels his way into someone else buying!”

Hayward senior recently switched playing allegiances, playing four internationals with New Zealand and being selected in their Olympic squad. The shot stopper says there’s no need for the brothers to prepare for mind games should they cross paths on the field.

“It’s just kind of like if you have a little brother then you know that you can beat them. It doesn’t matter if its playing Mario Kart, playing hockey or wrestling.”

But ahead of such a major milestone match, it’s only fitting that Hayward junior gets the final say.

“Ah Leon the journeyman. He has been all over and now has an opportunity for the Black Sticks. I support him but in saying that, if he lines up against me, I can’t wait to score past him.”

Let’s hope Hayward kick starts his goal scoring form against Belgium in Sydney this weekend on 25/26 January, followed by Great Britain on 1/2 February.

Tickets for all of the Kookaburras’ FIH Pro League matches in Sydney and Perth are available now through Ticketek.

Story by Adam Clifford