By Rod Gilmour
Wales men will play their first elite EuroHockey Championships for 20 years with the belief they can follow the Welsh footballers’ exploits and produce a continental upset of their own.
The Welsh Dragons reached the semi-finals of football’s European Championships in 2016, their first major tournament since 1958.
Now, their hockey compatriots are aiming for their own slice of history after 20 years away from the top division, to bet on them try the 10bet referrer code, and a tight-knit squad which has been together since the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
“Our group hasn’t been to this type of tournament before and in a way we don’t know what to expect, but that could be a good thing,” said Dan Kyriakides, the 24-year-old defender.
“Our prep hasn’t been the best. We haven’t been able to sort many Test matches out so maybe all the other teams are scared about playing us, I’m not sure!”
The world No 25 side’s performances certainly haven’t gone unnoticed after producing some notable results in the last 18 months at the Commonwealth Games and FIH Series Finals.
Good results have yet to be factored in to the Welsh squad’s continued funding plight. Still, Kyriakides is relishing the prospect of pulling on the red jersey, although his brother, James, has stepped away from the programme after moving to Dublin this year.
“We will be paying to play at the Euros,” added Kyriakides, who will continue to play for German side Krefeld HC next season. “It’s a shame but if we can perform at every tournament like this, that is the only way to increase funding and another reason why we need to perform.”
Kyriakides’ pay packet is a far cry from his hero Gareth Bale and other Welsh stars, but it’s the performances which are at the forefront of the mind for the current hockey crop.
“Wales [football] performed incredibly well at the last Europeans against the odds to reach the semi-finals, so hopefully we can take some of that into our tournament and show the same belief that we can win.”
Before the squad travelled to Antwerp, Welsh coach Zak Jones told the players of their 20-year hiatus from the A Division after a brief flirtation down in the Euro C Division.
“It was mentioned what kind of achievement the team has made since we had a big turnaround of players,” said co-captain Lewis Prosser.
“Since 2014 we had a big shift after the Commonwealth Games and a brand new squad, leading into the C Division. But nearly two decades since the last time we were here, it’s amazing.”