Sport

Behind the Play | Ian Wright

By Brayden May

ECHUCA’S Ian Wright has a rich hockey history.

He’s not just a player but also an administrator, coach and official.

If there was ever a job to be done, Ian was probably the first to put his hand up.

His career didn't start on the field though.

As a youngster, Wright elected to follow many of his Melbourne mates down the football path.

But everything changed when Wright was 15.

A serious concussion suffered while playing for Elmore High School meant it was time for Ian to hang up the boots.

There was no choice despite his reservations - safety came first.

“All I remember is being on the ground and then waking up on the bench 15 minutes later,” Ian recalled.

“That was it for me in footy, and I found myself searching for a new sport.”

As fate would have it, opportunity came knocking.

“I had some friends who played hockey for St Kilda at the time and they invited me to a training session.”

From that day, Ian was a natural with stick in hand.

“I was very fortunate. Hockey can be a difficult sport for someone who is just starting out,” he said.

“I ended up playing a lot of junior hockey for St Kilda and eventually was selected in their senior team.

“It meant I was sometimes playing four games in a day because I was playing juniors and seniors.

“Sometimes I would have to make my own way to games on public transport, which was a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t go back and change it.

“My love of the game has just kept growing from there.”

Despite showing plenty of promise at club level, selectors didn’t believe Ian had the ability to step up in class.

“I kept missing out on representative teams by the barest of margins,” he said.

“But it didn’t deter me because I knew I could keep getting better. I went away and kept working on my game at the club and at home.

“As a winger I was competing against guys who would end up playing in the Australian side.

“When you’re missing out to players of that quality you get the feeling you are close to achieving something special.”

Through all the adversity, Wright was never willing to give up.

He continued to pick up a stick no matter where life took him – Tasmania, Ararat then Echuca.

“My wife and I did move around quite a bit through my jobs as an agriculture scientist and then I became a teacher,” he said.

“Living in different towns did open my eyes to different coaches and training programs and that only helped me to get better as a player.”

Ian eventually settled in Echuca in the early 1970s, after a failed attempt to move closer to his family in Benalla.

But during the early days of his new life there was one missing element – hockey.

“I heard a men’s competition was going to start so I thought I would go across to the meeting in Shepparton and find out what it was all about,” Ian recalled.

“I said Echuca would have a team and I was able to scrounge up players who had never played and some who hadn’t played in years.

“We eventually merged with the women’s team and then our goal to try and find some juniors, which we did.

“The club means a lot to me because of how much of a role it has played in my life and I’m very thankful for the opportunities it has given me.”

Ian would go on to play for over a decade in the club’s top side before moving into the lower grades to allow the next generation to develop quickly.

Despite taking a small step back, his dream of playing representative hockey never disappeared.

Ian would achieve this when he represented Victoria Country at the Australian Masters Championships.

But there were still challenges ahead.

“We had trouble getting enough people who wanted to be part of the team on a regular basis,” he said.

“It got to a point where I was trying out for just the Victorian team and I was lucky enough to be selected.”

That selection made Wright realise he had the potential to pull on the green and gold.

In 2004, he was selected in Australia’s second side for the World Championships in Greece.

And Ian got more than he bargained for.

“My first year in the team was one of my favourite memories,” he said.

“I was umpiring as well so in the morning I would play and then in the afternoon I would umpire.

“I was given the prize of officiating a gold medal match which I was pretty chuffed at.

“Considering there were people solely there to umpire it was a special moment and something that I’ll never forget.

“To receive that recognition from tournament officials meant a lot to me.”

Since then, playing for Australia has become a regular fixture for Wright, winning several medals along the way.

His pinnacle moment came at the 2018 World Championships in Barcelona.

Two goals in a match against arch-rivals England helped propel the Aussies into the gold medal position.

‘‘There was no finals series,’’ Wright said after the competition of the tournament.

‘‘We were very lucky to beat the English the second time.

‘‘That set us up and we just had to watch the English-Dutch game. If the Dutch beat England they would win gold, and if England won, we would take gold.

‘‘But the English beat the Dutch 5-1 and we ended up with a gold medal.”

While Wright is always more than happy to speak about his personal achievements, he says his family are the real winners.

“I couldn’t have done it without their support,” he said.

“Both kids have played in the country championships for Victoria and my son has also played in the Australian over-35 side which went to New Zealand.

“It means a lot when you do see them playing the sport you love.

“One of the biggest thrills I had was when I played with my son for nearly a season.

“Those family memories are the best thing I have from my career.”

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