Koen Suykwsp

Dwyer sticks to his belief, earns his way to Rio

JAMIE Dwyer has nothing to prove.

The five-time world player of the year is arguably the greatest hockey player the game has seen.

He has played more games and scored more goals for Australia than anyone else.

He has won World Cups, three Commonwealth Games gold medals, the Champions Trophy six times and scored the winning goal in extra time at the 2004 Athens Games to give the Kookaburras their first and only Olympic gold medal.

But Dwyer is determined to go to next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and hopefully lead Australia to another gold medal to try to erase the doubts about his legacy, created when former coach Ric Charlesworth decided prior to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow the Queenslander's best was no longer good enough.

Just two weeks after helping the Kookaburras thrash the Netherlands on their home soil to claim back-to-back World Cups, Dwyer was stunningly left out of the Commonwealth Games squad, with Charlesworth deciding it was time to start rebuilding for Rio.

The 35-year-old wasn't the only shock omission - veterans Liam De Young, Rob Hammond, Glenn Turner and Tim Deavin were also told their time was up.

To say Dwyer was disappointed would be an understatement.

Just one game away from setting a new record for the most caps for his country, he received the news he wouldn't be going to Glasgow via email from the coach just weeks out from the event.

Charlesworth, who had announced his own retirement a week earlier, justified the decision by saying "Jamie hasn't been the best player in our team for a number of years now", arguing his "form and durability" had waned.

"He tried to retire me," Dwyer said. "I certainly hadn't been thinking my career was over. I believed I was still good enough - I still had the hunger."

Dwyer was under no illusion Charlesworth still pointed the finger of blame at him for Australia's semi-final loss to Germany at the London Olympics.

"The stats showed I was the best player in that game - but he was looking for anyone to blame but himself," Dwyer said.

"His relationship with me certainly changed after that - not mine with him."

A couple of things also happened in Dwyer's life that he believes contributed to the relationship souring.

He opened the first of two restaurants in Perth with some friends, including former champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker and swim star Eamon Sullivan, and also cashed in on the advent of the lucrative Hockey India League in early 2013.

"I was earning a lot of money ... I don't think he liked that," Dwyer said.

After Glasgow, the Kookaburras champion sat down with the new coaching panel, including head coach Graham Reid, to work out whether he was still in the frame for Rio.

"I said I didn't have to keep going, I'd won everything," he said.

"If I'd gone to the Commonwealth Games I would have retired then but I wanted to prove to myself and to them that I could do it."

Dwyer admitted he had never been to South America but has been to three Olympic Games, the exhilaration of attending the world's biggest sporting event dating back to his time as a nine-year-old growing up in Rockhampton.

"I threw a lot of sick days from school in 1988 for the Seoul Games," he said.

"The girls (Hockeyroos) won gold, which was fantastic, I was sports mad, I watched everything."

By the time the Sydney Olympics came around in 2000, Dwyer was in the Australian squad but was overlooked for his home Games.

He made his debut in green and gold the following year - May 20, 2001 he recalled - playing in the Manning Cup against New Zealand.

"It was one of the best days of my life - I definitely didn't take it for granted," he said.

He set his sights on Athens but tragedy struck 11 months out when he ruptured the ACL in his left knee.

Luckily he was back playing within eight months and was over the moon to be named in the team for his debut Olympics.

"It was just a huge buzz - I was super excited," he said.

"It was just a great atmosphere, although you've got to remember what you're there for ... some don't.

"I don't think anything will ever surpass that moment of scoring the winner."

Dwyer went on to win bronze at both the 2008 Beijing Games and in London in 2012, with Beijing being his least favourite Olympic experience.

"It was very smoggy, too structured - they had a rent-a-crowd at the hockey," he said.

If things turn out the way he hopes, Rio could provide a fitting chapter to a brilliant career.

Despite what happened prior to Glasgow and the fact he will be 37 by the time the Rio Games roll around, Dwyer has shown age has not dimmed his talent by scoring 16 goals in his past 20 games.

"I just want to go to one more Olympics - test myself on the biggest stage one more time."

He has earned that right.

- APN SPORTS BUREAU

 

FAST FACTS

Name: Jamie Dwyer

Born: Rockhampton, March 12, 1979

Achievements: World player of the year 2004, 07, 09, 10, 11

Gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, bronze in Beijing and London

Most capped Australian player: 341

Most goals for Australia: 222



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