|Following South Africa’s triumph in the Africa Cup at the weekend, Madibaz hockey star Ignatius Malgraff is fired up to take his game to another level as he looks ahead to next year.
The 24-year-old striker, who is studying human movement science at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, was part of the outfit who defeated home team Egypt to be crowned continental champions.
He was joined in the national squad by Madibaz hockey manager Cheslyn Gie, who was the assistant coach.
After drawing 3-3 with the hosts in their pool game in Ismailia, the South Africans came from a goal down to win the final 2-1 on Sunday.
The East London-born Malgraff said it had whetted his appetite for a busy 2018.
“Our performances in Egypt gave me the motivation to strive to become a better hockey player as there is a lot on the table for SA hockey next year,” he said, referring to the Commonwealth Games and World Cup.
The former will take place on the Australian Gold Coast from April 4 to 15, while the latter will be played in India in late November.
Malgraff said he felt the team had learnt a lot at the Africa Cup.
“Obviously major events like the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup are the big ones, but this was a tournament where we trailed 1-0 at halftime and had to show character to come back and win.
“We had to fight extremely hard to overcome the Egyptians and credit must go to them for playing good hockey.”
The success in Egypt was another feather in Malgraff’s cap after he was named Madibaz Sportsman of the Year for the third time last month. He was similarly honoured in 2014 and 2015.
“It’s always a special feeling knowing that your hard work has paid off and has been recognised. There are many superb athletes who achieved in their fields this year and I’d like to say well done to them all.”
Having become a regular member of the management team this year, Gie said one of the key lessons he took from the tournament was to stay calm under pressure.
“That is so important,” he said. “It helps you to make sure you maintain your shape as a team and continue to build pressure on the opposition.”
He added that being crowned champions was critical for South African hockey.
“Failure to win the Africa Cup would have meant we could have dropped to as low as 21st in the world rankings,” he said.
“We could have lost out on a spot at the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, which would have been catastrophic.
“We picked up vital ranking points at this tournament and so what the team achieved means so much for hockey in our country.”
Gie said there were still major challenges ahead for SA hockey, due largely to its amateur status.
“We still don’t have a major sponsor backing the team and therefore having training camps and holding international friendly matches become nearly impossible,” he said.
“These are vital programmes we need to have in place to ensure the players continue to improve.”
He added, though, that there was a determination in the squad to prove themselves next year.
“The big goal is definitely to try to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. We have the talent and the potential to do well,” he said.