The excitement of winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Junior Women’s Hockey World Cup in Chile in December is still percolating through the mind of Greta Hayes, writes Graham Croker.
With Spain leading the bronze medal match in Santiago 1-nil, attacking midfielder Hayes trapped a ball in the Australian circle and fed the crucial pass to Laura Gray who levelled the score with a deft flick to the top left of the net.
The goal sent the match into a shootout which the Jillaroos duly won 3-1 and Hayes, the 19-year-old Sydney University Women’s Hockey Club (SUHC) member, came home with a medal and a new aim – to push for selection in the Hockeyroos.
Most would announce that aim in hushed terms; the revered Hockeyroos carry the weight of the nation to deliver gold medal results at every World Cup and Olympic Games. Inquisitions are held when they don’t.
But given Hayes’ steely determination and results in the nine years she’s been wielding a ‘twig’, it’s do-able. After all, earning Jillaroos (Australian Under 21) selection was an aim she achieved with three years to spare.
“I had my eyes on the Junior World Cup in Chile and made it. Hopefully I can now progress into the senior program,” the Sydney University Sport Elite Athlete Program member said.
It’s been a hectic journey since Greta took up the sport while in Year 5 at Woollahra Public School. “Mum and Dad both played competitive field hockey,” she said. “Dad played in the NSW Open team as a 16-year-old, so it was one of the sports I took up early on. I was serious about soccer and most other sports during my younger years.”
Greta made the Sydney East Hockey team in 2009 and the Sydney Junior squad the following year.
While in her first year at St George Girls High School she also joined the Sydney University Hockey Club and progressed through the age teams. In 2013 she travelled to New Zealand and Argentina, representing the school as part of the Australian All Schools Hockey Team. The team won against the New Zealand’s Under 21 side but were defeated by Argentina’s National Under 18 team.
It was a big year for the rising star. She was also awarded a Sydney East Sporting Blue and was a Sutherland Zone Award winner. Greta was also invited to train with the NSW Under 21 and Under 18 teams in preparation for the Australian Championships.
“I now see 2013 as a development year in my career,” she says. “It opened my eyes to the opportunities. My life would have been fulfilled if I played for NSW, and when I did (the following year) it broadened my aims.”
Greta started playing for NSW in the Under 15s, competing in the Australian Championships in Sydney. The following year she was selected for NSW Under 16s to compete in the All Schools Nationals in Hobart. She was also selected in the NSW Under 18s.
It became a trend. While in the NSW Under 18s for the Nationals, she was also selected in the Under 21s.
Not many players can be labelled a veteran on the Under 21s, but it’s true in Greta’s case. She’s been in the NSW Under 21 teams for five years. “I’ve played nationals in every state bar South Australia,” she said.
Having finished the HSC in 2014, Greta enrolled at Sydney University the following year. “I initially wanted to study Veterinary Science but I was being selected in more and more representative teams and I had to weigh up the hours I’d need to do voluntary work at Taronga Zoo and the study required and I just couldn’t see myself fitting in all in,” she said.
“The hockey nationals are usually held in October and November, which would have cut into the Vet Science time.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Sydney University so I decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Nursing. I started in 2015 and it’s worked out really well and I’m enjoying it.
“We’re based on Mallett St at Camperdown and have some lectures on the main campus which I enjoy.”
And that’s where the Sport Scholarship and Elite Athlete Program have been integral. “With the different representative squads I have to attend training camps and go on tours and the Elite Athlete Program staff have been fantastic in their support,” she said. “It’s like having a personal secretary to run your life. They help with forms, getting permission for university extensions, travel and other areas.”
All of that assistance was required in 2016, a watershed year in her career, with most events being selection platforms or team qualifiers for the Junior (Under 21) World Cup in Chile in December.
Greta was in the Australian team that won the Oceania tournament, a World Cup qualifier, in January. She then competed for NSW at the Under 21 Nationals in April, another selection platform.
That was followed by squad camps and a trip to London in August – along with the Hockeyroos – as a lead-up to the Junior World Cup. The Open Nations were in September-October, followed by the culmination of the Sydney club competition. Sydney University women’s First Grade finished third, having been premiers for the two previous seasons.
Then came selection in the Australian Under 21 squad for the World Cup. It had been a boom year and, as Greta says, a relief to be on the way to Chile, following a build-up since late 2015. “We were stoked to finish third, the bronze medal was the first for Australia in 14 years,” she said. “There had been a late change to coaching staff, but we came together quickly and after nearly two years of selection camps and tournaments, it was nice to culminate it with a medal.”
Off the pitch in 2016, Greta was also an ambassador for the NSW Premier’s Sporting Challenge program, which involves past and present NSW and Australian sporting representatives, providing inspiration and motivation for young people to get active through school visits and coaching clinics.
And at the SUHC 2016 presentation night, she shared the Best and Fairest and Most Valuable Contribution Award in Women’s First Grade with Fiona Tout.
“My aim now is selection in the Hockeyroos squad,” Greta says. “I’ll go back to club and NSW training. The Under 21 Nationals are in July and the Opens in October. If I was selected in the squad, it would require moving to the AIS in Perth, so ideally, it would be better if I finished my degree before that.”
While her aims remain high, Greta retains a down-to-earth approach. “No matter what you choose to do, you must have fun doing it … there is no point pursuing something you don’t enjoy,” is Hayes’ philosophy.
“Playing at a high level, I often have to remind myself why I play and think positively about how much I love hockey instead of worrying about selections.
“It is always challenging juggling sport, university and work commitments, especially because I love doing everything to the very best of my ability. My family (including two elder sisters) play a really important role in supporting me with everything, so I am very lucky.”
Only 482 women field hockey players have worn the Australian colours at senior level since 1914. It’s an elite club and Greta’s knocking on the door.