Coach's 'fine line' warning for gold-hungry Kookaburras

Murray WenzelAAP
The Kookaburras narrowly missed out on the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. (Joe Giddens/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconThe Kookaburras narrowly missed out on the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. (Joe Giddens/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Eddie Ockenden's quest for a maiden gold medal in a historic fifth Olympic campaign is on track after the ageless Kookaburra was among 27 players included in the latest squad for 2024.

But coach Colin Batch has issued the group with a warning, declaring he will happily bring in fresh players in order to field the best possible team at the Paris Games.

Ockenden boasts a record 427 caps since debuting in 2006 and has won two World Cups and four Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Olympic gold is the one prize missing though, the Kookaburras winning two bronze medals in his time with the side, and losing the Tokyo gold-medal game in a shootout two years ago.

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The 36-year-old is on track for a fifth crack in Paris next year, something no other Australian hockey player has achieved.

The Tasmanian is part of a wider squad that includes Cairns talent Jayden Atkinson - who was just five when Ockenden made his international debut.

The Game AFL 2024

Fit-again drag flick specialist Joel Rintala is also in the mix, the Townsville product in hot form after returning from injury ahead of a successful Hockey One finals campaign for the Brisbane Blaze last month.

Rintala scored a hat-trick inside 21 minutes in just his second Test in April, all three goals coming from flicks on short corners - a precious skill in modern hockey.

Rintala's Blaze teammate Corey Weyer is also back in the fold while NSW goalkeeper Ash Thomas has been rewarded with a call up.

Batch cast his net wide in a 2023 Test season that yielded mixed results, and said he wouldn't fear repeating the approach in an Olympic year.

"The selection for the team to head to Paris next year is still very open," he said.

"Players will need to perform consistently both at training and in matches leading up to the Olympics to secure their position.

"As we discovered this year, there is a fine line between the Kookaburras squad and the ... tier-one development squad members and, if required, we will select from the tier-one squad to find our best team for Paris."

The Kookaburras will play Spain, the Netherlands, India and Ireland in Pro League fixtures in India in February before a May-June European

tour featuring Tests against Belgium, Argentina, Great Britain and Germany.

The Olympics will be held in Paris in July-August.

KOOKABURRAS 2024 SQUAD: Jacob Anderson, Jayden Atkinson, Daniel Beale, Josh Beltz, Tim Brand, Andrew Charter, James Collins, Tom Craig, Matthew Dawson, Johan Durst, Nathan Ephraums, Blake Govers, Jake Harvie, Jeremy Hayward, Tim Howard, Craig Marais, Eddie Ockenden, Flynn Ogilvie, Joel Rintala, Lachlan Sharp, Ash Thomas, Jack Welch, Corey Weyer, Jake Whetton, Tom Wickham, Ky Willott, Aran Zalewski.

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