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'Everything's building for Tokyo' - Black Sticks women's coach raves over Whitelock, McCaw returns

Having managed to tempt the legendary duo of Kayla Whitelock and Gemma McCaw out of international retirement, Black Sticks women's coach Graham Shaw makes it clear that it was a simple decision to welcome back two of New Zealand's all-time greats into his side.

After the pair both stepped away from international hockey following the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, both Whitelock (nee Sharland) and McCaw (nee Flynn) are now set to take one last crack at glory.

Speaking to 1 NEWS, though, coach Shaw outlined that it was the pair's form during the recently concluded National Hockey League that left him with an easy decision to make.

"Not actually too tough to be honest with you," Shaw told 1 NEWS. "They obviously performed very well down in NHL, and we had a conversation down there.

"[I'm] absolutely delighted to welcome them back into the squad, and working with them over the next few months.

The Black Sticks women cruelly finished fourth at the 2016 Games, and with Tokyo 2020 now just months away, both Whitelock and McCaw will be part of a 25-strong national squad for the upcoming year.

Shaw was happy to oblige in both Whitelock and McCaw's charge towards redemption, hailing their character within his squad.

"They're fantastic people. You don't play at the highest level in your sport for such a long period without being really rock-solid people.

"[They're] really good, genuine people that want to come in here and improve the team. [I'm] really, really chuffed that they've taken up the opportunity to come back in.

"It's going to be challenging for them with their families and so on. Credit to their families as well that they're going to come on this journey with them and support them as much as [they] possibly can.

"[I'm] really excited for them to join a fantastic group of people that are here in the squad already. Exciting times."

While the Black Sticks' focus will ultimately be centred on the Olympics, Shaw emphasises that there is still much to be done before his side attempt a repeat of their heroics at last year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, defeating Australia to claim the gold medal.

"I'm not looking too far ahead. We've got a lot of games and an exciting journey in between.

"It's just very much now trying to get people on the same page, and align from a tactical point of view what we're looking for on the field.

"Then we've just got to work hard daily to see [if] we can develop and grow as a group. We'll use that period through January, February, March, April in particular with the Pro League games, a few other friendly Test games where we give players opportunities, try a few things here or there and see where we go.

"Everything's building for Tokyo, but we've got to make sure that we're enjoying that period in between - otherwise you'll create too much pressure for yourself, and won't enjoy it.

"It's very much about enjoying each other's company, trying to grow and develop together, and we'll see where that takes us effectively come the Tokyo games."

The Black Sticks women will face Belgium, Great Britain, USA, Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, China and India through until May next year, before their Tokyo Olympics campaign begins on July 25.

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The duo have returned to the international fold ahead of Tokyo 2020. Source: 1 NEWS


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