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The boy who never thought he would leave Darwin

28 May 2015

HOCKEY: As a young boy Joel Carroll never thought he would leave Darwin. Little did he know when he picked up his first hockey stick at age seven, it would be his ticket around the world and to the Olympic Games.

The London 2012 Olympian is one of the Northern Territory’s greatest hockey players, having recorded 98 caps for Australia. While his election in the men’s Hockey team for London made him one of 43 indigenous athletes to represent Australia.

“It definitely makes me feel special being one of 43 indigenous athletes, but I would like that number to be higher,” Carroll said.

The 28-year-old has welcomed a move by the Australian Olympic Committee to amend its constitution to recognise the nation’s first people.

Carroll has participated in the AOC’s Chat to a Champ program, speaking to year nine and 10 students from the remote community of Gapuwiyiak, in the Northern Territory.

“I definitely support Aboriginal people playing sport. Sport helps indigenous people do better with their lives,” Carroll told the students.

Carroll highlighted the importance of discipline in his journey of being an elite athlete.

“Eating healthy, not drinking, not smoking, no drugs. Discipline is a very big thing in becoming an elite athlete,” he said.

Carroll’s hockey journey began in his home-town of Darwin, with his Mum and Aunts and Uncles also loving the game.

When Carroll started playing, hockey was dwarfed by the bigger sports of Rugby and AFL, with only six teams in all of the Northern Territory.

“For me, playing hockey was different because it wasn’t a huge sport in Darwin.” said Carroll.

But instead of being draw to these large sports, Carroll stuck with hockey.

In 1996, alongside his brother, Travis and cousin, Des Abbott, Carroll was selected to represent the Northern Territory.

“We got picked for the NT team at a fairly young age, and that’s when I decided to stick to hockey and kept playing.”

Carroll decided to make to the move to Perth, home of hockey Australia, when he turned 18 years old. It’s a move he admits he wouldn’t have made without his brother and cousin.

“Growing up I never pictured leaving Darwin,” he said.” I don’t think I’d be playing hockey without my family, and I definitely wouldn’t have moved to Perth. It was definitely easier with Des and Travis."

Carroll and his family members joined a Perth club team and then “it all started to happen with the Aussie team. I got selected in the squad and went from there.”

However, Carroll had to wait for his spot on the team, with Beijing Olympic defenders Matthew Wells and Bevan George being dominant presences.

Finally in 2009, Carroll stepped up to the senior team when he competed in the Summer Series against The Netherlands in Perth, alongside cousin and striker Des Abbott.

Carroll continued to impress and was a part of the successful Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy teams that took home gold in 2010.

Alongside Abbott, Carroll was named in the London 2012 Olympic team, an achievement he says he still cannot comprehend.

“I still can’t believe it. I checked my emails and found out I was in the team and was in shock” said Carroll.

Unfortunately Abbott was forced to withdraw from the Team because of injury.

Despite this, Carroll said his family was his playing inspiration throughout the Games.

"It was definitely surreal but I would always just go out on the pitch and look for my family in the crowd which made it less nerve wrecking,” he said.

The Kookaburras ended their 2012 Olympic campaign by defeating the British in front of a vocal home crowd 3-1, to take home the bronze medal.

Head Coach of the men’s hockey team, Graham Reid says Carroll is a well-respected and well-valued part of the team.

Reid believes injuries have hampered Carroll’s career, with torn ligaments in his foot in 2012, surgery to his foot in 2014 and two torn hamstrings in the last year.

“That’s been frustrating for him. He hurt his foot after Hockey India League last year and he’s had his hamstring injuries more recently and it’s been difficult for him,” he said.

Despite his frustration, Carroll is determined to stay positive and on the road to Rio, which is something Reid and the Hockey Australian coaching staff are willing to support.

“Hopefully that’s the last of my injuries and I can start playing again” said Carroll, whose goal is to return to full fitness and be selected for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games squad, which would be a “dream come true.

”We have a plan though and the objective is to strengthen him to make his body more robust so he can handle the load of the training that will maximize his chances of making it to Rio,” Graham said.

The Australian Men’s Hockey team will compete at the Fintro Hockey World League Semi Final in Antwerp, Belgium next month.

Stakes will be high at the tournament, with the Kookaburras in line to qualify for the Rio Olympics if they can secure a top three finish in the ten team event.

Ashleigh Knight for olympics.com.au

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