South Africa men’s hockey team midfielder Wade Paton made his debut in the green and gold against Scotland in 2007 at the age of 20 and it was far from auspicious.
“I tore my hamstring 90 seconds into the game,” Paton reflected with a wry smile at the SA team’s hotel in Kakamigahara, 300 km from Tokyo in Japan Tuesday, where South Africa are going all-out to win the Olympic Qualifier Tournament that will book them a ticket to the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Paton will earn his 50th cap in South Africa’s tournament opener against Brazil at 6.30 pm (10.30 am UK time, 11.30am SA time) on Thursday, yet had the SA team enjoyed adequate financial backing the milestone would have taken a lot less than five years to reach.
“It’s disappointing to play so little,” said the older brother of team-mate Taine. “If we had a group of players with over 100 caps we would be one of the favoured teams for an Olympic medal.”
Apart from Taine, Paton’s hockey family includes father Alan, who played for a strong Rhodesia, a championship-winning Natal and coached the SA men’s team, and mother Di, a Natal and South Africa “A” striker.
“Taine and I spent weekends with our little hockey sticks alongside the field, Dad coaching or Mom playing. The bug really bit when we all went to an Olympic Qualifier in Poland, supporting Dad and the SA team. That’s when we realised this is something we want to do.”
An SA Schools’ cap out of Maritzburg College in 2004, Paton has won the national senior title with KZN Coastal Raiders three times, twice as captain, and it would have been four had injury prevented him from playing in last year’s event.
Working in sales for an isotonic drink market leader, Paton has to fit hockey in but the sacrifices have been worth it, not less captaining South Africa in Austin Smith’s injury-enforced absence to the Africa Cup Olympic Qualifier Tournament title in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe seven months ago. “It was a great honour and an incredible feeling.”
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) set further criteria for the team hence the all-or-nothing need to win in Japan.
Top seeds, Paton said there is a quiet confidence in the SA team. “We respect our opponents but know if we stick to our plans and processes we can win the final here and earn our ticket to London.”
Destiny is in this SA team’s hands and mission accomplished will mean they join Team South Africa’s athlete contingent jetting out of OR Tambo for London in July.