With his team sitting at number one in the world rankings and with a 2018 World Cup and 2019 European Hockey Championship gold medal already to his name, the Head Coach of the Belgium men’s national hockey team can be forgiven for the simmering excitement he is feeling ahead of the return to FIH Hockey Pro League action.
Shane McLeod took over as Head Coach to the Red Lions in 2015 and his pathway has been an upward trajectory ever since. Belgium finished in second place to Australia in the inaugural FIH Pro League and will be looking to go one better this season. The previous encounter with Germany in the FIH Pro League, saw the Red Lions roar to an 8-0 win, and McLeod will want to see a similar dominant performance from his team in the opening matches of the resumed season.
How excited, motivated and ready do you feel the players are for a return to FIH Hockey Pro League action?
Shane McLeod: I’m not sure who is more excited, the players or the coaching staff themselves. It’s a special group to work with and we get a lot of pleasure out of watching them play good hockey and be challenged by other nations playing good hockey. Everyone that is involved with the group is looking forward to seeing how they have come out of the Corona period. Also, it is the early stages towards Tokyo and it is a chance to get an early look at where the teams are sitting. I’m not sure there’s many teams are going to be ready for the competition in the next month or so, but everyone needs to get started and everyone is pretty excited about doing that.
Are you able to draw any positives from the break from action of the past seven months?
Shane McLeod: The answer is that there are always positives in all situations, you just have to try and find them. One of the positives for us is that it gave us an opportunity to give some of our players, who had been working pretty hard in the international scene for a number of years, to lessen their load a little bit. They could take care of injuries to make sure we kept ahead of the programme and so on. That is one advantage. We were also able to do a lot of technical stuff, when we could have training sessions, their technical levels were very high. I would even dare say, for a lot of the players, they made some gains during their time because we were able to focus quite individually on each of the athletes. So, there were positives. The big negative was not playing together so we have had to rebuild our game a little bit but it has given us an opportunity to add more things to their game so our overall game gets better.
What will you be looking for from your players if they are to win this opening game of the season?
Shane McLeod: I think one of the groups within our squad that has made the most progress over the past couple of years has been the young guys. They have come into quite an established group and they are the ones who are helping move the quality of how we play. So this is Victor Wegnez, Antoine Kina, Agustin Meurmans, Arthur de Sloover and the Van Dorens (Arthur and Loic). Those guys, we are going to try to give them experience in the first part of the Pro League and give them back for investing in our team and I will be really interested to see where they get to by the time Tokyo [2020 Olympic Games] arrives.
Can you sum up the importance of the next few months when it comes to preparing for the EuroHockey Championships and the Olympic Games?
Shane McLeod: The next few months are going to be really valuable and that is why it is important that we try and make every endeavour to play the games. We obviously have to stay safe and abide by the rules but it would be nice to have some sort of normality over the next few months to take some of the pressure off the last run into the Olympic Games. We want to be at a stage with the Olympics getting close where we can put the final touches on things, not be in a rebuild stage. We can only do that if the next few months are a success.