A year and six months ago, Danny Kerry was taken to hospital in Johannesburg. Later, the England Hockey website revealed that the 46-year-old, then the coach of England women’s Hockey team had suffered a heart attack. Two weeks later, after undergoing a surgery, he paid tribute to the Milkpark hospital where he was treated for saving his life. Fast forward to December 2018, much has changed for Kerry. On Friday, he will lead the Men’s hockey team in the World Cup semifinal against World No. 3 Belgium.
“It changed me a huge amount. I have two daughters, 5 and 8. I was in South Africa when I had a heart attack and I had to have a surgery there. Before that surgery, I was thinking will I see my children again. It was a moment in my life where you think, ‘okay, what’s more important?’,” Kerry told reporters at Kalinga Stadium.
He added: “In pressure of big tournaments, you lose perspective on what are the most important things in life. I think that moment has helped me in times of pressure to think, ‘It’s really important to me, but it’s just hockey.’ My health, my children, my family… you put everything in perspective,” he said.
After months of rest, Kerry returned to resume his duties as Women’s Hockey coach. In the World Cup earlier this year at home, he took his side to the quarterfinals. After the tournament, he was announced as the coach for the men’s side to lead in the ongoing men’s World Cup.
Kerry said the incident in Johannesburg has helped him in attaining a perspective on life. “What I do is from time to time I remind myself, ‘okay, I am paid to do a job I love, I’m in an amazing part of the world, working with a national team… just try and see good in things rather than number of hours you work. I think it helps you have perspective,” he said.
On being questioned how he ensures his physical fitness, the coach simply said: “I make sure at least 45 minutes of exercise a day and I am careful with what I eat now.”
On semifinal clash against Belgium
Placed 8th position in the rankings and entering with a relatively inexperienced squad, not much was expected from the Three Lions in the tournament. Even at the start, coach Danny Kerry had mentioned that his team would have to adapt on the field. But after beating Argentina with a tremendous defending display, there appears to be a glimmer hope.
“It feels like we are in a good place. We are preparing like we have been preparing for the other games. Feels like we have focus. I don’t think we are making a big thing of the semis. We are just making sure we do what we have done in the previous games,” Kerry said.
Speaking on their semifinal opponents, Kerry said that despite their reputation, England cannot afford to be passive. “Belgium is sort of having their golden generation. They might be bookies’ pick and start as favourites. They have built a reputation, so we have to respect that. But at the same time, not respect it so much that we become passive. We are looking forward to play one of the best teams in the world,” he said.
One of the questions the Belgium team has often been asked by journalists prior to the match is whether they are expecting a more physical game against England. In the tournament, England have appeared to display a more attacking front. Speak to any reporters from England, and they would agree. But Kerry believes his side just plays hockey. “I don’t think we play a physical game. We just play hockey.”
Kerry is used to playing high pressure matches. Under him, the women’s team representing Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics won gold. On being asked whether the past successes adds an additional layer of pressure, Kerry said, “I feel a lot of pride in what I do. I want to do well by the players and the staff. That’s the pressure I put on myself. All I really want to make sure that I do the best job as I can to allow the players to play as best I can. If I feel that I am happy. If I feel I made a few mistakes, then I get angry.”
He adds: “In January, I complete 14 years with the national programme and 13-odd years have been with the women’s team. Over that many Olympic cycles and World Cup, you curate a lot of experience of high and lows of tournaments. You are constantly drawing on that experience,” he said.
So, which has been easier for him – men or women’s team? “I have been with the men’s team for 12 weeks, so it’s early to say if coaching women’s team was easy. But so far, we have totally changed the way we defend and attack and the boys have been very receptive… they’ve really gone for it. It has made me feel very welcome,” the coach said.
Every match has been like an equation for Kerry. He would go minute-by-minute into details of what he noticed during the game and what changes he tried to bring in the team at that point.
Up against Belgium in the next game, he picks Arthur van Doren and Loïck Luypaert as the danger pair – for very specific reasons. “I think Belgium have two very good fullbacks in van Doren and Luypaert. They set up play for the rest of the team. They make big shapes to dominate the ball. Thats what they have done to every team. So, our job will be to accept that they will keep possession but not worry about it. We need to accept the shape and it will be difficult for us to press it,” he said.
But he also has a fix in mind: “But if we manage to take the ball off them, it will help us to push forward, because they play quite wide.”