| After amassing an impressive 176 caps for the Vantage Black Sticks Women, in an eight-year international career that has spanned an Olympic Games, a Commonwealth Games, a Champions Trophy and a World Cup, Black Sticks defender Brooke Neal has decided that the time is right for her to retire from International Hockey.|
The Northland born and bred player made her debut at the 2013 Oceania Cup. From that moment on, Neal would go on to be the rock at the back for the Kiwis. The 2016 / 2017 seasons would have some incredible highlights for the side as Brooke would play an integral part in the team finishing fourth at the Rio Olympics, and then to earn an impressive silver medal at the Sentinel Homes Women’s Hockey World League Finals at North Harbour in 2017.
Brooke was part of the outstanding side of 2018 which managed to break through to earn the New Zealand Women’s hockey team their first Commonwealth Games Gold Medal as they would take down the Australian Hockeyroo’s in clinical fashion with an emphatic 4-1 victory at the Gold Coast event.
Neal was also a key member of the team that won the Oceania Cup in Rockhampton last September, again beating arch-rivals Australia, to win direct qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
The 2013 Vantage Black Sticks side looked vastly different than the 2012 team that had contested the London Games. Since making her debut that season Brooke became a mainstay at the back for the national team as her anticipation and reading of the play were integral in the teams’ success.
Not only was Brooke an incredible defensive player, her drag flicking prowess saw her bag 13 goals throughout her career as well.
On coming to such a difficult decision, Brooke reflected “It is one of the toughest decisions I’ve made, but I know that the time is right to step away and I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life.
“Representing New Zealand has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, and it has been an absolute privilege to wear the black singlet over the past eight years. Looking back over my career, I will always be grateful for the amazing friendships I’ve formed along the way, and for all of the experiences (and challenges) that come with elite sport.
“I’ve been lucky enough to grow my initiative as a mental wellness advocate alongside my hockey career, and I will continue my work with young female athletes as this is a big passion of mine.
“I would not be here without the incredible amount of support I’ve received throughout my journey. To my family, friends, teammates, coaching and management staff, and my sponsors – Thank you for believing in me and having my back.”
Vantage Black Sticks Women’s Captain Stacey Michelsen, who has played with Neal for several years for both the New Zealand side as well as their beloved Northland, praised her now-former teammate for her immense contribution to the team’s success and environment commenting,
“Brooke has been an integral part of the Black Sticks for many years, and through her career has developed into a world-class defender. Her tackling and intercepting ability in crucial moments in games has been key to the successes we’ve enjoyed as a team, and what she has brought to our team will be very hard to replace.
“I’ve had the pleasure of playing alongside Brooke for both the Black Sticks and our home province, Northland. She is someone who puts her heart and soul into every team she is part of and adds immense value both on and off the field. I wish Brooke all the best for the next part of her journey”.
Ella Gunson and Brooke Neal formed a formidable partnership at the back for the Black Sticks during their time in the team together. Gunson commented “I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with Brooke for our home region Northland, and our country, for many years. As a fullback pair, Brooke and I must have been a funny sight – the tall and the short.
However, we worked very well together and had a strong connection and relationship.
Brooke has played such a pivotal role in our team, especially in the organisation of our defensive unit, and was often the unsung hero. Many times, she was our saviour, keeping us in tight games with her inspirational play from the back.
Brookey will be greatly missed by us all, on and off the field, but we wish her every success and happiness for this next phase of her life. With her personality, ability, and strength of character we are sure she will enjoy a fantastic future”.
Vantage Black Sticks Coach Graham Shaw said “I would like to congratulate Brooke on a fantastic hockey career with the Vantage Black Sticks Women.
It is never an easy decision to retire from international sport. However, Brooke has been a fantastic player over an 8-year career on and off the field. I would like to wish her all the very best in the next chapter of her life.”
In her final performance for the Black Sticks, Women Neal played an integral role in helping the Kiwis beat the World Number 2 Argentina 5-3 in front of a packed Ngā Puna Wai crowd in Christchurch at the recent FIH Hockey Pro League match in March, a fitting farewell to one of this generations finest.