Sport

The Wright stuff

by
September 28, 2016

It’s one of the great moments in sport – when England loses.

The greatest moments are reserved for when Australia is the cause of that downfall.

So how sweet is it when those Poms are dragged to a penalty play-off – and then lose?

So close but no, there’s no prize for second.

Gold medal Australia.

It doesn’t matter what the game, where it’s played, even the age of the combatants.

Beating Poms is what international sport is all about.

Just ask Echuca’s Ian Wright. He’s just lived the fantasy of being part of all three.

When his Southern Cross Blues defeated an English XI in Newcastle (our Newcastle, not theirs) to claim the World Grand Masters Hockey crown.

Not just any masters. Here we are talking septuagenarians, those old coots who are 70 (and older).

After coming back from 2-1 down with five minutes left in the final, the Poms must have thought it was in the bag.

Until they lost that penalty stroke-off 4-3.

It’s a long flight home.

Wright was no stranger to this level, having been part of the Blues’ bronze-medal performance in the equivalent over-65s event in 2012.

That year the English won.

Not this time.

Being part of the first-place finish was a career highlight for Wright.

‘‘A gold medal at that level is pretty good,’’ he said with obvious cheer in his voice.

‘‘The World Masters is held every two years. I’ve been in the Australian (senior) team and this time the Southern Cross in the next division.

“Because I was on the shadow list of the Australian team; that’s another avenue open to me in the trophy tournament.’’

Not many sportspeople can claim to be a Grand Master of any discipline, let alone among the grandest of all with a gold medal around their neck.

There are chess, martial arts, shooting and bridge Grand Masters.

But Wright doesn’t see himself in that pantheon.

As he put it with a laugh, he’s a grand master ‘‘only in age’’.

And he still has one more age gap to go — 75-plus.

Wright’s normal playing position has been as a forward or attacking midfielder.

He scored two goals himself during the series — one from open play and one from a corner hit.

‘‘In a lot of instances, more than a strike forward, midfielders have a tendency to work a hell of a lot harder because they’ve got to get up and attack and back to defend,’’ Wright said.

‘‘I played mostly in the midfield and some as an attacking forward. If I didn’t get a goal I could set them up and assist, either as an injector for corners or in the field.’’

At over-70 level the traditional two halves of 35 minutes are broken slightly into four 17.5-minute quarters with a one-minute break at quarter and three-quarter time.

The Blues managed to go undefeated on their way to golden glory (scoring 23 goals and conceding only four – two of those in the final).

And Wright concedes they were a little surprised to find themselves that far ahead of the pack.

‘‘We were pretty chuffed (but) we didn’t expect it. In all of these round-robin tournaments you can’t afford to drop games. You’ve got to hold everything together to get to the final because there’s no playoffs, just the top two. You’ve got to keep playing and achieving or you won’t reach the top.’’

And staying at the top level when you play seven games in eight days is a mean feat for an over-70s player, let alone a modern Olympian.

Wright agreed.

‘‘It’s pretty hard work,’’ he said with a chuckle.

‘‘We only lost one player out of our squad with a broken toe — and he was one of our major strike forwards, which becomes a little problematic when you’ve made the final.’’

Wright’s had a lifelong hockey devotion since his school days in St Kilda.

And he’s been in Echuca since 1972.

‘‘When I first got up here there wasn’t any men’s hockey at all,’’ Wright said.

‘‘I heard Shepparton was starting a men’s club so I went across to the inaugural meeting and said Echuca would put in a team.

“I was it,” he laughed.

“So I scrounged for enough players and it grew from there.’’

The best part of some 50 years of life on the hockey pitch has been his chance to continue achieving at such a high level.

You also keep up your fitness level, Wright said.

The challenges of hockey, regardless of the age bracket, don’t go un-noticed, though.

‘‘You try and assess what the other team’s doing when they are playing other opposition, but each game is taken on its own merits,’’ Wright said.

‘‘You can’t turn around and say another team is weaker at competition at that level. You’ve got to put strategies into play from the coach to achieve the outcome of winning.’’

Next up for Wright will be playing with Echuca’s club for the rest of the 2016 season before a trip to Adelaide in September for Victoria’s masters team in the national championship.

‘‘Then I see if I can get re-selected for an Australian team,’’ he said.

‘‘But that becomes a lot harder in certain years, because you’re getting older and there are younger guys coming in, even in that age group.’’

Although at 70-something you would always be worried about younger guys.

This month’s tournament also marked the first time it was held in Australia.

‘‘Previously the Australian teams always had to travel to Europe to compete,’’ Wright said.

But there was a mixed international presence of sorts in an Alliance XI – much like the old AFL State of Origin Allies combination.

‘‘It’s made up of Germans, Dutch, English and one Australian – the goalie,’’ Wright said.

‘‘Colin Benporath from Western Australia. I know him well. I’ve played against him – and with him – on a number of occasions. In the hockey circles at that age group you seem to get to know people very well.’’

Nevertheless, age does weary some.

‘‘The attrition rate with injuries as you get older does take its toll,’’ Wright said.

Though being on the fringes of the full international side also has its benefits.

As Wright said, there’s always hope that a top division Aussie will go down with an injury.

And that was the case this year, too.

So the Southern Cross Blues lost their fullback to the senior Australian team.

As Wright put it, it was a shame the Aussies didn’t lose a key forward.

He’d have been happy to fill in.

Because he has the Wright stuff.

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