Stuart Bathgate: Clement's modesty masks iron resolve to keep cap tally rising

THERE are countries where Linda Clement would be a household name by now, and sports where her contribution to the cause would have seen her feted in public long ago, inducted into halls of fame years back, and practically sanctified by now.

But it is perhaps just as well for this unassuming woman from Fortrose that hockey in Scotland is not as high profile as it is in other countries, or as other sports are in this one. She takes a quiet pride in her achievement, but is not the type who wants to be singled out for special attention.

And yet that achievement is pretty special. Still only 30, Clement has just celebrated winning her 150th cap for her country.

The landmark is not wholly without precedent - Alison Ramsay and Rhona Simpson both won more - but it does testify to Clement's ability to remain playing at a remarkably high level. Asked to assess it herself, however, she modestly suggests that perspiration has played a bigger role than inspiration.

"It comes down to challenges," says Clement, who has captained the side in almost two-thirds of her appearances, and has also played 18 times for Great Britain. "You have to dedicate a lot of your time and make a lot of sacrifices in order to continue playing international hockey.

"If you look at a ten-year period, it is quite a long time."

In a sport which remains largely amateur, sympathetic employers are also essential. A PE teacher at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, where her forerunners on the staff include rugby internationals John Rutherford and Donald Scott, Clement acknowledges that the backing of the school is essential.

"They support me for time off. Never a problem - they're completely understanding as far as that is concerned. It's a fantastic school, and a big hockey school."

It took Clement a time to realise that she could become a successful hockey player. During most of her school days on the Black Isle she was just as involved in athletics, until she realised that getting out of bed early for long journeys to competitions in the south felt a whole let easier on hockey days than on outings to track-and-field meetings. The speed which had seen her selected to run the 300 metres for Scottish Schools was an obvious asset to her play as a winger in hockey, but in the decade since she won her first cap her game has matured considerably.

"I've definitely changed as a player. When I got my first cap I could run fast and that was my main strength. As the years have gone the experience I've gained has been invaluable and the type of game I play is quite different."

Everyone tends to remember their debut for club or country, but after a while the games can become one big blur. Not so for Clement, however - she can recall each one, and if the memory should begin to fail she has a written record to turn to.

"I'm quite meticulous in taking a note of every single cap. The date, who we played against, what the score was and whether I scored or not. I think I can remember every one of them, to be quite honest.

"The first one was England at a Four Nations tournament. We unfortunately lost 5-0. I do remember that quite clearly."

Clement's 150th earlier cap earlier this month was more successful, as Scotland beat Belgium.

The occasion was marked before the game by a short speech and the presentation of a quaich, but there was no time to celebrate afterwards, as the team had another game the following day.

The schedule will be equally hectic at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October, when Scotland are in the ten-nation hockey tournament.

They were sixth eight years ago in Manchester, then fifth at the last Games in Melbourne in 2006, but Clement cautions that further improvement will be tough.

"To do one better this time and break into the top four is a big ask because of the strength of the teams above us.

"Australia, New Zealand, India, England and South Africa are all ranked well above us. That's not to say it's not possible, but we would need to play above our current ranking."

By the time she returns from India, Clement will be well on the way to that double-century of caps, and, form permitting, she sees no reason why she should not make it.

"I feel I'm still enjoying it and still want to play.

"I suppose in some respects you are tempted by life outside hockey, but you're a long time retired.

"So while you're still enjoying it and still able to play, playing any sport at international level is fantastic."