The chance to represent Scotland at the highest level comes around only once every four years for field hockey players. For Rob Harwood and Lucy Lanigan, the chance even to get that chance, and make the flight for the Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast next month, could be distilled down to one week.
The 20-year-old Harwood and Lanigan, who is 24, are the newest of the new bloods in the Scotland hockey teams that will travel down under. Until they headed out to sunny climes for warm weather training camp only last month, neither of them were nailed down for the Games.
Harwood, indeed, who plays for local Milngavie club Western Wildcats, was in the Dundee United pro-youth set-up until the age 15, and only made his Scotland debut against the USA in Malaga. He capped his cap with a goal described as “sensational” in reports. “There wasn’t an expectation when I went to Malaga that I would go the Australia,” he said. “It seemed such a short time scale but I just went there and played as best I could, and it.”
Glaswegian Lanigan would appreciate those sentiments. Although she earned her first cap in 2016, she only had a handful when she headed to Gran Canaria with the Scottish women’s hockey team. A five-game series there against Wales that brought them four wins, saw Lanigan score in every match.
“I knew I had done everything I could, that my form was good and that I was fit and fresh,” he said. “My life has been hockey but I still didn’t know if all that would be enough.”
The PE teacher at the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, where she now lives, was left on tenterhooks until the squad announcement. For it, she was allowed to miss assembly and plank herself down in front of a computer for a Commonwealth countdown.
“The squad was to be released at 9am and as the time clicked round to 8.57, 8.58 and then 8.59 before my name was there in the squad I just cried tears of joy. I am so happy and proud.”
Harwood admits his first love was football. However, he relished playing hockey and combined both for “as long as I could”. In doing that, it helped that his football games would be a Saturday morning, while the hockey matches were scheduled for Sundays. For midweek training sessions, he would alternate between the two sports for his Tuesday and Thursday sessions. But he knew something eventually had to give.
“It got to the point where I was enjoying playing hockey more, with the local aspect of it compared to travelling to Dundee a factor,” said Harwood, who also had trials with St Mirren and Motherwell. “I also felt there was maybe the chance with hockey to go further.”
Both the men’s and women’s team will have their work cut out to make an impression on their ten-team tournaments. The men have been drawn in Pool A with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. Men’s Pool B has India, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Wales. The women also have Australia and New Zealand in their section, which is also Pool A and comprises Canada, and Ghana. Women’s Pool A has England, India, South Africa, Malaysia, and Wales drawn together.
Australia are the top-ranked men’s team in the world, New Zealand are 11th and South Africa 15th. In the women’s game New Zealand and Australia are fourth and fifth respectively.
Harwood may be a newbie but the rules of hockey ensure that his inexperience won’t mean he is reduced to a bystander role in the 18-strong squad, as might be the lot for recent graduates to the set-ups in major team tournaments for other sports.
“It is such a physically demanding sport that you have rolling substitutes that means you are on and off every seven or eight minutes,” he said. “I am the only player with fewer than ten caps but feel I have fitted in well so hope I can make a decent contribution.”
Lanigan feels likewise and can’t help but be desperate to put Scotland on the hockey map in one particular pool game. The renowned fervour that those in Oz have for their athletes whenever they take to the sporting field makes for a prospect to excite rather than daunt in the Gold Coast.
“It won’t be easy with our pool but what a thrill to be playing the home nation in a Commonwealth Games,” said Lanigan, who describes herself as a “warrior”. “That will be a life experience and a memory to remain with you forever.”