When the chance to host the World Cup qualifiers arose, Hockey Wales “jumped on the opportunity”. The national governing body now hopes to see the host nation advance to a first ever men’s World Cup come Sunday and the start of annual Test matches in Cardiff.
Wales men take on Italy on Thursday – the women also take on Italy in Pisa as they aim for a first World Cup ticket since 1983 – with the hosts hoping that the 300-odd supporters in the grandstand will act as the 12th man to see them through to the weekend.
This is certainly a big ‘visibility’ week for Welsh hockey. The TV cameras will be at Sophia Gardens while the men’s highlights will be on S4C and BBC Wales and limited resources at Hockey Wales means that every member of staff has rolled up sleeves to stage the event.
This has included Ria Burrage-Male, chief executive since 2019, who was helping put up a VIP marquee on Monday ahead of Thursday, where she will also have one eye on proceedings in Pisa.
“The men are more than capable of reaching the final and qualifying,” she said. “I’m really excited for them and they have demonstrated their capabilities in the top division in the last two Euros and how they’ve fared there.
“Hopefully we will be successful against Italy and if we can win on Saturday it will be an enjoyable day in the final.”
Burrage-Male says the “intimate space” of the main grandstand should generate fervent Welsh support.
Moreover, the men haven’t played at home for around 60 matches, stretching back several years, while Jacob Draper has never played in front of a major home crowd before.
“The Welsh are pretty good at getting behind their teams and they will be a strong voice,” she added. “The grandstand intimacy is really special and there will be a 12th man on Thursday.
“We want more countries to come and stay in Wales [after the qualifiers]. We want to take advantage of our home nation links.
“We need to create a habit with people, that June and July is hockey international time, and make use of this opportunity.”
WORLD CUP QUALIS: How to watch on TV, preview, fixtures