Commonwealth Games 2018: Hampstead & Westminter trio to help Wales in men's hockey glory bid
PUBLISHED: 17:30 04 April 2018
Hampstead & Westminster members might have divided loyalties when England and Wales meet at the Commonwealth Games, writes Lee Power.
Harry Martin will be wearing the white of England, but team-mates Stephen Kelly, Jonny Gooch and Rupert Shipperley will all be lining up in Welsh red.
Kelly said: “There’s been a little bit of chat, mostly because they’re ranked a bit higher than us, there’s quite a lot of expectation on them to do well.
“We’ve got a bit of underdog status, which is nice. I think he’s under a bit more pressure than we are.
“There’s a bit of chat flying around and it’s always a bit of fun in the changing room and on the pitch, we get stuck into each other!”
Swansea-born Kelly, 25, became interested in hockey at a young age through his parents, who encouraged him to try all sports.
Cirencester was his first club after moving to England and hockey at King’s School, Gloucester played a big part in his early progression.
He added: “We played in the January term and from there I got put forward for trials for regional level and then was scouted for a trial group for the under-18s.
“The first time, just hearing the anthem when you’re lined up on the pitch is emotional, quite an impressive moment. It doesn’t really sink in until you’re out there playing.”
Kelly made his senior Wales debut in 2014 and netted his first goal against Austria.
He now has 41 caps to his name and believes Wales are on an upward curve, adding: “We got promoted into the top division of Europe last year which really pushed in terms of exposure.
“Being introduced to bigger tournaments is quite nice. The Europeans is definitely a career highlight to this point and knowing that going into 2019 we’ll be in the top division is a massive incentive as well.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength, really improved since the last Commonwealths, and come together really well as a group and got that promotion.
“Just before the previous Commonwealths, the team had been relegated in the European Championships, so we’ve come back with a double promotion in the last four years, so I think we’re in a really good place to show people what we can do.
“We went up the most places in the rankings out of any team in the last two years so I think we’ll still have that underdog status, but we could surprise one or two people out there and put in a good showing of ourselves.
“There’s five or six guys still in the squad from the last Commonwealths and then we’ve got a whole new young crop in who have come through the under-21s or recently, which is really nice.
“I think our average age is under-25, it’s an exciting group of players that have no real limitation at the moment. There’s no team we don’t think we stand a chance against, so it’s quite a nice position to be in.”
Having two clubmates in the squad is another positive for Kelly, who is a PE teacher at Dulwich College and was given a warm send-off before departure.
He said: “Me and Rupert have played together since under-21s so for Wales for about five years now. We played at Surbiton together before as well.
“Jonny joined two years ago and has done really well and it’s nice to have that crossover, we’re pushing each other to work on specific things for the Welsh as well as our club training. It really helps us to get the best out of each other.
“Jonny is a dogged defender, he loves getting stuck into the opposition and not always making the best of friends with opposition forwards, he loves a tussle here and there in the best way possible.
“Rupert is a real impact player, very fast, good skills. He can change a game in a dynamic play. I’m quite fast as well, one of the fastest in the team, and provide a basis for a counter-attack when we get the opportunity.
“There was a big round of applause from the rest of the staff for being selected and the children have been saying how much they’re going to enjoy watching it on TV at whatever time in the morning.
“They have all been really supportive and the school have been very supportive in allowing me a bit of time missed to go out there and compete. They’re all really excited and it’s quite a nice thing for them to have to get boys encouraged about playing hockey.”
Kelly can count on more support from the stands on the Gold Coast too, with his parents and sister making the trip Down Under.
And he will also be keeping an eye on fellow Hampstead member Sarah Robertson, who is playing for Scotland’s women.
“Hampstead is a really good club and there’s a really good atmosphere. Everyone’s super enthused about hockey and loves being involved in it as much as we can,” he said.
“Being in London helps, there’s a good social scene and everyone commits to events and it’s a good club to be part of.
“Hockey is such a family sport and a real good community. It’s so easy for people to get on and know each other from club stuff and internationals. It’s a nice opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate and do the best they can, so we’ll definitely catch up while we’re out there.”