Australian greats to help Singapore's SEA Games hockey team
All four of them are world champions and Olympic gold medallists who represented hockey powerhouses Australia.
One is a five-time World Player of the Year, another is in line to win the award in 2014, and all of them - Jamie Dywer, Mark Knowles, Rob Hammond and Liam De Young - have come together to boost Singapore's quest for hockey gold at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
But, instead of coaching under the banner of the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF), the four Aussie stars will work in the Republic's corner as the headline act of the newly launched The Project Group (TPG) Academy.
TPG managing director Paul Lim had approached the SHF with the aim of engaging the four Australians as part of a sponsorship deal worth more $200,000, including supplementing the wages of five national players who would train full-time in the lead-up to the 2015 SEA Games, which Singapore will host in June.
But following what he claimed was administrative delays at the SHF, Lim - a former Singapore international - ditched the original plan and decided to use the TPG Academy as the vehicle for the programme.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, businessman Lim said: "It was always about me chasing the SHF, and that's what put me off. The whole idea was to get this started before November, so I could start paying our national team boys.
"Anyway, things are still being done, Singapore hockey goes on, I'm still trying to contribute and I'm still open to discussions with the SHF in the future."
TPG Academy has already started working with the men's national team under its elite men's programme drawn up by the four Aussie greats, and the five full-time players who are receiving additional funding are A. Suresh, 23, Sabri Yuhari, 24, Tan Yiru, 24, Ashriq Ferdaus, 21, and Enrico Marican, 23.
A women's elite programme engaging Dutch players is slated to be launched early next year and a development programme targeting local schools is also being lined up by the academy.
The four Aussies are scheduled to be in Singapore for 10 training sessions leading up to the June SEA Games, with local coaches implementing their programme at sessions that take place twice every week.
"Making money isn't our main priority, helping take Singapore hockey to the next level is,'" said Lim, a former goalkeeper who retired after the 2007 SEA Games, where the Republic claimed a silver behind the region's top nation, Malaysia.
"I will only be a spectator when the Games comes around next year, but I hope to contribute and, at least, live out my dreams vicariously through these guys.
"But we will charge schools who can take on our coaches for their own training sessions and some have already expressed interest," he added.
Mathavan Devadas, who took over as SHF president at an AGM in late October - beating a team that included Lim - confirmed that the potential sponsorship deal did fall through.
While he declined comment on what happened, he remained hopeful of future partnerships.
"The focus of the federation is to promote hockey in Singapore, and in that respect, if there are opportunities to work together in the future, we will consider them very seriously," said Mathavan.
The 16-strong men's team returned from the Asian Games earlier this year with a string of losses, but the hope is that they gained invaluable experience from the tournament in South Korea and now with the help from the world-beating Aussies, will leave them in a position to at least push perennial favourites Malaysia at next year's SEA Games.
"The biggest difference (between Aussie hockey and how it is played) here is reaction, speed and physicality, but generally speaking, that's the difference between Australia and the rest of the top 10 teams in the world," said Hammond.
"That's what we're trying to bring to the boys here, and they are eager, and really, really, enthusiastic."
Knowles who is up for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) World Player of the Year award, said: "The improvement from our first session is measurable, and the boys keep turning up and going at it, no matter how hard we run them."
Dwyer, widely believed to be among the world's best players, says they are working hard to get the boys up to speed by the time the SEA Games comes around in June.
"They're training at a higher intensity, and the aim is to make them fitter, faster, and better on the ball and ready for the Games."