Ever since we first met in Perth in 1985 as hockey scholarship holders at the AIS, Warren “Buster” Birmingham, the current Australian captain, and I have waged an on-field war. There was no one particular incident that set it all off, but whenever we have been opposed, whether it be in an official fixture or a friendly training session, it seems our egos and ambitions emerge to ignite some extreme feelings and emotions.
Back in those early days at the AIS, Buster was laying claim to the centre-half position in the national team. The long-serving Terry Smith had retired after the Los Angeles Olympics, leaving the way clear for Buster to take over.
As he was fit, athletic and totally dedicated, these claims were not unreasonable, but as someone with a vastly different approach to the game I was not his biggest fan. I saw myself as a player of vision and touch, and I felt that his game, which was built around the number of possessions he got but not necessarily their effectiveness, was robotic and over-rated.
As a result, whenever I got the chance to play against him, the “high-profile glamor boy”, I, as the “new kid on the scene”, would find a bit extra. This “bit extra” was not always within the rules, however, and invariably my vision and touch would desert me, replaced by anger and aggression.
At first, he didn’t take too kindly to the fact that (a) he had a challenger to his rightful position and (b) that this person would resort to such tactics. Buster learnt pretty quickly, however, and for every hard tackle I would put on, I’d get a better one back.
The other players around thought it was all quite amusing to see these two teammates in the national side belting each other around the park, but it got to the point where before a club fixture, Richard Aggiss, the then-head AIS and Australian coach, took us aside and told us to cool it.
Then the night before the game, Buster called me to put an end to the feud, to which I agreed in principle. Once the game started and I crossed that white line, I couldn’t help myself.
Naturally, in those days our relationship wasn’t the best off-field, but as it became clear that I was not a contender for the centre-half position, the tension eased.
And after spending more time together as room-mates on tour we have a much better understanding. Whereas once I used to wonder about the thoroughness of his pre-game preparations judi bola, I can now appreciate how they have enabled him to succeed at the elite level.
Generally, I think our rivalry has been good for both of us. At times, it may have gone overboard and strained relationships, but it has made us both tougher, and smarter, hockey players.
Having said that, I wouldn’t expect things to be any different this weekend when the Vic Redbacks take on the Sydney Scorpions for a spot in this year’s NHL grand final agen bola. We might be on good terms, but a game like this still brings out the best and the worst in both of us.