Can there be any better position as a hockey player than captain of the team that is currently riding high at the top of the world rankings? That is where Thomas Briels currently stands as he prepares to lead the Belgium Red Lions into their first FIH Hockey Pro League match against Germany in Dusseldorf on 22 and 23 September.
The 33-year-old forward has 343 caps to his name and is already a triple Olympian, making his international senior debut in 2007. As such, he has been synonylmous with Belgium men's rise up the rankings. In Beijing 2008 he was part of the team that finished ninth; in London 2012, Belgium were placed fifth and in Rio 2016 Briels was part of the silver-medal-winning team. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games now scheduled for next year, there is little wonder that Briels is itching to be back on the pitch and facing the challenges set by the Red Lion's competitors.
Do you feel as if you are physically and mentally prepared for the FIH Hockey Pro League season to begin again?
Thomas Briels: Yes I think so. We trained really hard in the month of July with the national team and then we had a little break to prepare with our clubs. Now we are starting to prepare for our first game against Germany so the guys are looking fit, fresh and ready to start again.
Has the past few months and the Covid-19 situation changed your perspective on being a national team player in any way?
Thomas Briels: It was pretty difficult because you always have a goal, whether it is to play at an Olympic Games or to play for the national team in high level competitions. It was pretty difficult to stay motivated but now we can start again with the Pro League and with the clubs again so we are looking forward to the following year.
How do you feel at the prospect of playing international sport again?
Thomas Briels: Very excited. We hope it will be with some supporters but just really cool to play again for points and to play games again. It is also really important for us to prepare for the Olympic Games, so yes, we want to play on the high stage as much as possible and the team is really looking forward to playing again.
How do you and your teammates feel about playing hockey under strict health/hygiene guidelines and the challenges that will pose?
Thomas Briels: It’s a challenge, but I think it is a challenge for everyone. We try to follow the guidelines as well as possible and, of course, it will be strange because you train together and spend a lot of time together but now we need to be separated and things like that. But I think we are following the guidelines very strictly and to now we don’t have any Corona [cases] within the team. Hopefully we can keep doing our best and I hope everyone stays healthy.
What are you hoping of the next few months of FIH Hockey Pro League action?
Thomas Briels: Exciting games with a lot of tension and games of the highest level. I hope we can play as well as we were playing when we stopped. We ended the FIH Hockey Pro League season in first position and we hope to keep that top spot for as long as possible.