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England’s number one Maddie Hinch is getting her kicks from leading hockey’s new crop of youngsters into the 2022 Commonwealth Games, writes Tom Harle.
The Sussex star is still a superhero between the sticks, turning a generation of youngsters into wannabe goalkeepers.
But as Hinch, who brought up 100 England caps this month, rumbles towards a third Commonwealth Games and potential third Olympics in Paris, her motivation has changed.
“My role in the team these days is very different and I get energy in such different ways,” said the 33-year-old.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself in taking on a senior role - it’s not just about stopping every ball, there’s so much more to it now.
“I always strive to do that but I also want to be someone who inspires the group and have a small part of the career I’ve had. That gives me a lot of energy.
“My perspective on things is very different and that has allowed me to have the length of career that I’ve had. I’m feeling a bit older but experience comes with its perks!
“Paris might be something that I do, it might not, but I don’t think that far ahead. Right now my sights are set on a huge summer for us.”
Hinch is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
Her growth into the best goalkeeper in the world started just too late to feature at London 2012. She narrowly missed out on selection to Beth Storry as Team GB won bronze.
"I was very much a baby, fighting to get into the group for the first time," she said. "In hindsight it was absolutely the right call not for me to go to that one.
"It’s made me want it even more and my career has been going pretty okay since then!"
She took over as first-choice stopper shortly after, an ascension marked out on the major stage by silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
England’s semi-final win over New Zealand came on penalties and they were beaten by Australia in a shootout to conclude a pulsating tournament.
— Red Bull UK (@RedBullUK) June 7, 2022
Hinch comes alive in such pressure situations - reference Rio 2016 and her penalty-saving heroics - and Glasgow gave her first taste of high-stakes hockey.
“Glasgow was an incredible experience,” she said. “The Scots weren’t huge fans of ours but it made for an incredible atmosphere.
“What happened in the shootouts was part of the story of what was to come for us as a group. This summer is the start of this group’s journey and we’ll see how it turns out.”
Hinch and co. went on to win bronze on the Gold Coast in 2018, meaning Commonwealth gold remains one of the few gaps on one of the great hockey CVs of the modern era.
She is conscious that as her hunger has grown, so has the scale of the task.
“I’m very aware of the fact we haven’t got the gold yet,” she said. “We have this opportunity to do it at home and it would be a fairytale story if we can.
“The stage of hockey has got stronger and stronger and it’s getting harder and harder to win the Commonwealth title, but we’ll go out there with all we’ve got.
“There are some teams that we have very little knowledge of, and that comes with its challenges, and then you have teams like India that we know very well.
“India will be medal contenders and Australia and New Zealand are always going to be tough. It’ll be tough but I’d hope to see us in those medal matches for sure.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise over 400 athletes. Having secured her place on the squad, Hinch is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.
And a home Commonwealth Games gives Hinch another platform to push the art of goalkeeping on even further.
Hockey kids used to dread being asked to put the pads on but Hinch, who runs her own coaching business, has seen perceptions change.
“Finally everyone understands how cool goalkeeping is, I’ve been telling them all this time!” she said.
“It’s been awesome to get stories from teachers who haven’t even had goalkeeping kit in the past to now, where everyone wants to try it out.
“It’s cool that the Commonwealth Games give us a chance to get the sport out there on the big stage.
“It’s such a unique and such a fun position. It comes with a bit of superhero status so I’m hopeful I can put in some more performances and inspires a few more kids to try it.”
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