By Mark Etheridge
Recently named South African hockey player of the year Taine Paton paid credit to his fellow provincial and national team-mates on Thursday and pledged to take the national team to new heights and hopefully the Olympic Games in London next year.
Paton, currently in Belgium where he plays for the ARA Gantoise Hockey Club, told Road to London 2012 that the experience of his team-mates had been hugely beneficial to him. “This year’s award would have be a result of the previous two years where I got my first call-up to ‘the lads’ in the national side. The team was really full of players who were focused and determined to get to the top no matter what.
‘Their attitude rubbed off on me very quickly,” said the KwaZulu-Natal midfielder. ‘Before I knew it I was making sacrifices for the team and I haven’t had one regret. Playing two seasons back to back all year round is not easy but I know that the rest of the lads are counting on me, and me on them, to take the national team to new heights and make ourselves an icon for the country to be proud of.”
But it isn’t always easy for a sport that falls in the shadow of SA’s big three codes of soccer, rugby and cricket. ‘I have really put a lot of effort into enjoying my hockey through the tough times we have as hockey players in SA. If you lose that enjoyment then you get into the wrong sort of fight necessary to move forward in your game and that can bring down the whole team. After all, at the end of the match it’s never only you who has won be just as much the other 15 players on that field.”
Paton also gave credit to his parents. “They’ve played a huge part in my success as a player and have always encouraged me to keep going and follow my dream of playing the best hockey possible. Without their backing I would never have been able to put in the performances like I did and which helped me win such an award.”
Paton was also named “Player of the Tournament” at the recent IPT (Interprovincial Tournament). “That was also a highlight and something I had never really thought about as I was busy dealing with my plans for the European season and things were frustrating. When game time came it was really a fight to just enjoy it and play hard for the team but I managed to do so. I may have seemed calm on the outside but it was a tough week and I am convinced it has made me a stronger person.”
Like most sportsmen, Paton harbors a huge ambition to be part of Team SA in London next year. “Going on to the Olympics in London would be the ultimate dream and the best part would be that I would be living that dream with a team full of hungry, result-focused players who don’t just want to be at the Olympics but have a super drive and hunger to shock the world and finally put SA Hockey securely on the world hockey map. All that hard work and effort put in to getting the team this far mean it would be an injustice to keep them from performing on the world hockey stage and showcasing all their hard work.
“So the Olympics is the biggest goal for me because I have the strongest belief that we will achieve and then I will be reaping the rewards of all that hard work next to my best mates.”
SA Hockey Association CEO Marissa Langeni was also lavish in her praise of the rising star. “Taine has consistently performed through the year. He is an exciting and exceptional player. He was awarded Under-21 Player of the year in 2010 and has raised the bar to earn this prestigious award as SA Men’s Player of the Year.”