With the Junior World Cup serving as the pinnacle of U-21 hockey around the world, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the best players on the planet for that age group comprise of athletes at the top of that age range.
Having just turned 19 in July of this year, attacking midfielder Lachlan Sharp of Lithgow, New South Wales, represents one of the youngest members of the Kookaburra’s U-21 squad to compete in Lucknow, India.
Plying his trade at Ryde Hunters Hill in the Sydney Premier League; New South Wales’ premier hockey competition, Lachi has enjoyed a stand out few seasons, peaking in the 2015 Grand Final, where he scored the Golden Goal in Extra Time to end a Championship-drought for the club of over 50 years.
His stand-out performances as a Ryde Panther and representing NSW in the Australian Hockey League at U-21 and senior level have led to his inclusion in the Burra’s squad in the build up to Lucknow and he is now relishing the opportunity to get the tournament under way.
“It is all very exciting.”
In his own understated way, Sharp is relishing the opportunity to compete overseas having missed out on the squad that ultimately won the Sultan of Johor Cup earlier in the year.
“At first I was pretty surprised. After missing out on the team of 20 that won the Sultan of Johor Cup in October, to then be named in the final 18 for the Junior World Cup was very welcomed news.”
“It is actually my first time overseas ever, so I’m actually most looking forward to being in a new country for the first time. It will be a pretty awesome experience personally for me and it’s made even better by playing in one of the biggest hockey tournaments in the world.”
“I think the most exciting part for me personally is being able to play against International opponents for really my first proper time. To do that at a tournament such as the Junior World Cup; it can’t get any better for an introduction to International hockey.”
Despite the success of the squad out in Malaysia just two months ago, Sharp is very aware that Australia have a potentially tricky group to negotiate before they can set their sights on the latter stages of the competition. With Korea, Argentina and Austria drawn alongside them in Group A, the Burra’s have not only 3 tricky teams but 3 vastly differing styles of hockey to account for if they are to progress.
“Our first game is against Korea on the second day of the tournament. From my knowledge on Asian teams, they all tend to have pretty slick skills and have very fast hands but usually mark very loosely which could lead to openings for us. I haven’t seen much of Argentina but after their senior men’s team took out the Rio Olympics in the summer, I think they will be high on confidence and would have an expectation to do well so who knows what could happen. I view Austria very much in the same boat; I haven’t seen them play a great deal but they are all very strong, physical characters who could upset anyone on their day.”
It remains a very pragmatic approach but one that has ultimately catapulted Sharp into the World’s elite and it’s a similar mind-set when it comes to the objectives of the team out in Lucknow.
“I think all these teams have the capability to win the JWC but as a Burra’s team, we look to build on good performances and keep improving as the tournament goes on so that ultimately we are playing our best game in the final on the 18th!”
“You have to embrace the opportunity you have been given”.
“My personal objective would be to not become too overwhelmed with the situation. Obviously you have to embrace the opportunity you have been given and no International is an easy match, but I think to become too over-awed in the situation makes you think elsewhere instead of thinking of the task in front of you. I think my basics and keeping things simple on the pitch will be a huge key for me this tournament which will help with keeping my mind on task throughout the entire fortnight.”
When it comes to guidance and coaching in hockey, for Lachi, help is never too far away. His father, Richard Sharp, leads the Ryde 1st Grade squad as their Head Coach. His passionate, indomitable style of leadership is renowned around the league and a fundamental kingpin of the Ryde Championship side of 2015.
“It’s pretty clichè and always the easiest answer but my parents are undoubtedly the biggest influence on my playing career. They have always wanted me to play any type of sport; not forced but always encouraged. I don’t think it really mattered what type of sport, but to see me having fun and making friends, makes it all worthwhile. Both my parents were very good sportspeople in their time, especially within hockey; my Mum reached state level U-21’s at the age of 16 and my Dad also represented NSW (New South Wales) at various levels.”
“But if I was to narrow it down to one person who has contributed most to my hockey success thus far, it would have to be my Dad. I’ve lost count of how many times he has put not only my hockey career but also that of my brothers and sisters as well, ahead of his life. With dad coaching my club team in Sydney, it has made it a lot easier for me to train at such a high level with him knowing so much about my style of play etc. So I’m very fortunate in that way.”
“Having him as my coach has been huge; all my life he has been there for me, especially hockey-wise. From the age of 4 I always had a hockey stick in my hand with Dad by my side. Having him at Ryde has not only improved his coaching, but it has given him more tools to make me a better player and I am grateful for that and very thankful for all of the people at Ryde for their continued support.”
The formula at the Sydney -based club is most definitely working. The contributions of Richard Sharp, along with that of Tim Collier and Larry McIntosh, former head coach of the Kookaburra’s, has helped to mould a fantastic club with extraordinary depth and elite flagship sides at First Grade level in Sydney.
From that Championship winning side of 2015, Ben and Tom Craig have gone on to earn Senior International Caps with Tom travelling to Rio as a reserve for the 2016 Olympic Games. Tom now joins Lachi along with fellow Ryde team-mate Sam Liles in Lucknow to represent the U-21’s with another Ryde prospect in Tim Brand just missing out on the final selection. Having his club team-mates alongside him in the Green and Gold of Australia will always be a special moment; the magnitude of which is not lost on young Sharp.
“A few of us were talking about it before and we were talking about not only how many Ryde boys are in the JWC squad, but also how many Ryde players are in the whole International scene now. I think there were 6 altogether in the Men’s and Women’s JWC squads and now also a new Kookaburra (in Ben Craig) so it is pretty overwhelming for the club in itself! But for me personally, to represent my country alongside some of my closest mates is something you don’t get to do everyday and sometimes you take it for granted how special those moments truly are.”
The gulf between competing at the Panther Den on a weekend and at the Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium over the next two weeks is an exciting prospect for the Lithgow teenager; “You get so comfortable playing at club level that it just becomes second nature to you. After not really playing much International hockey in my life, I am very excited to see how different it will be when I am out on the pitch. I think the speed of the game will be lifted to another level, the quality of the basics and the emphasis on professionalism will also be sky high and I’m looking forward to that challenge in particular.”
With a host of distractions surrounding the players at such a prestigious tournament, Ryde’s youngest contribution to the Burra’s JWC squad remains focused on the task at hand and the methodical approach towards realising the collective aspirations of the group.
“I believe all the teams will be pretty even once the tournament gets under way and it will be fine margins that determine each result. I think the team I would like to face most is whoever makes the final. Hopefully we as Burras can be alongside them and make it a fantastic match. If I had to name one, a game against India in the junior World Cup on their home turf with all of their fervent supporters would be something to remember I’m sure.”
The recent recipient of the prestigious “Best and Fairest” Award for Ryde on behalf of both the club as an entity and the First Grade, Sharp has his sights set on consolidating on his meteoric-rise over the past few years before pushing for further International honours.
“I think my goals after India are to continue playing for Ryde in Sydney and hopefully winning a few more titles there. I’ll continue to train at New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) for the following years and hopefully get picked up into the senior program.”
For the time being, the platform is set and the competition is about to get underway.
The last edition of the competition in 2013 has since contributed a plethora of senior Internationals from around the globe over the past 3 years, as well as providing the breakout performances of the now globally renowned, Christopher Rühr.
With Kookaburra Tom Craig and Rio Olympian Blake Govers in their ranks, it would be a brave individual to bet against Australia improving upon their return in Delhi 3 years ago, where a rampant Germany side ended their World Cup ambitions at the Quarter-Final stage in a thrilling 4-3 game.
For Lachi Sharp, a chance to compete on the global stage is one that he’s ready to take with both hands and as the tournament progresses, the spotlight will no doubt shine brighter on the young Ryde prospect along with the rest of his Burra’s squad.
Australia open their World Cup campaign against Korea on December 9th at 10am local time.
Click here to follow the Junior World Cup and keep up to date with all the news and results.
Image Credit: FIH, Hockey Australia, Lithgow Mercury, Ryde Hockey Club