In the second of our Greater Together series highlighting duos from our Commonwealth Games Australia history, Ian Hanson caught up with two country kids from Rockhampton, or Rocky as it is affectionally known, who went on to become two of Australia’s greatest ever hockey players but also great mates.
By Ian Hanson
To understand what would become one of Australian hockey’s fairytale years as we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Delhi 2010 you have to go back to the grass fields of Rockhampton in Central Queensland in 1994.
A game of junior hockey between Souths and the Wanderers where two opponents that day went on to become great mates and great players for Australia, truly ‘Greater Together’.
This is quite an extraordinary tale about two country kids from Rocky who started out on a journey that would lead both down a pathway to international hockey glory.
It was a Saturday morning on Kalka Shades No 3 some 26 years ago when 15-year-old budding Queensland regional hockey star Jamie Dwyer was making a name for himself with the Wanderers.
And on the opposing team, a kid named Mark Knowles who was called up for Souths by his brother and coach Brent.
Mark who had just turned 10 – giving away five years in age and size – but not lacking in tenacity – like Dwyer he was born to play hockey.
The Dwyers and the Knowles families were hockey royalty in Rockhampton and it was only a matter of time before the Jamie and Mark show would put this hockey dynasty on the world map.
Both boys remember the day at Kalka Shades vividly – and not just for the one-sided affair it was but the fact that Jamie netted 28 goals for the Wanderers in a 30 nil whitewash over a hapless Souths who had no answers to a Jamie Dwyer master class.
Young Jamie would score the most goals in one match in is life that day – a signal of things to come by the man who would become Australia’s most prolific international goal scorer.
A memorable day for one and a hiding for the other, but two lads who would graduate with flying colours to become two of “Rocky’s” favourite sporting sons, sharing some of their greatest moments together.
The boys would each go on to play over 300 international games for the fabled Australian men’s hockey team the Kookaburras – Dwyer 365 caps (the second highest) and Knowles 324 caps (the third highest) with Dwyer easily the nation’s highest ever goal scorer with 243, and Australia’s most decorated player, including being voted the world’s best player.
Jamie scored arguably the most memorable of all Australian hockey goals the extra-time goal in the Athens 2004 Olympics final for a gripping 2-1 win against the Dutch that would see Australia break a 48-year drought since the Australian men’s hockey team debuted at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and ‘Knowlesy’ was right by his side in an Olympic Games debut they will cherish forever.
Both boys would go on to captain the Kookaburras, Dwyer in the spectacular year that was 2010.
It was a year that would see Australia win the coveted triple crown – the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the Champions Trophy and its fourth Commonwealth Games gold – maintaining an unbeaten record, which has now been extended to six unbeaten Commonwealth Games golds between 1998 and 2018.
And of course, Knowles would later become captain of the Kookaburras before being the captain and the flagbearer of the Australian Team on the Gold Coast, famously walking the flag back through the team as they marched at the Opening Ceremony before capping his career with a fourth gold medal.
Dwyer and Knowles both played together in the Kookaburra’s magical year in a momentous World Cup triumph and the Commonwealth Games victories both in Delhi, with Knowles rested by coach Ric Charlesworth for the Champions Trophy for an even bigger occasion.
Knowles returned to Australia a week after Australia’s 2-1 World Cup celebrations over previous two-time winners Germany for the most important date in his life – his wedding day.
It was an extra special occasion for both Knowles and his bride to be, none other than Kelly Dwyer, Jamie’s younger sister.
The boys were not just two childhood mates but now firmly entrenched as Australia’s imminent hockey family as the famed Australian Kookaburras were now also brothers-in-law.
“It was a pretty amazing time for our group after losing the World Cup finals in 2002 and 2006, so to win that one in front of a pretty amazing hockey knowledgeable crowd in India was a great start to what would become a great year,” Knowles said.
“And for me personally I got married to Kel the weekend after so it was a perfect way to go straight from hockey mode into family and relationship mode.
“The second year period in between Olympics is always full on for hockey because we have the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the Champions Trophy – three major world tournaments all in one year.”
The Australians went to the Champions Trophy in Germany and Knowles was actually able to sit out that tournament, given Charlesworth’s mantra of needing his players to be “at your when your best is required.”
And with captain Dwyer on song, Australia continued its winning streak defeating England 4-0 to hold aloft the 2010 Champions Trophy, all that was left was the Commonwealth Games gold and the team’s second trip to Delhi, where they faced the melting pot of a hockey-mad culture and a heat wave that would surely be the team’s toughest test.
Leading into the Commonwealth Games there was certainly a great feeling amongst the group, being the world champions for the first time, they had won that Champions Trophy in Germany and to a man they really wanted to finish the year on a high back in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games.
After experiencing India earlier in the year when competing in the World Cup, the Australians understood the country’s passion for hockey and just how noisy it could become during the Games, especially when Jamie and Mark knew the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal could come down to Australia playing against Games hosts India in front of a deafening, passionate 18,000 strong Indian crowd.
Charlesworth had anticipated the possible gold medal match-up so had prepared his teams according, knowing the match would be played in one of the noisiest cauldrons in world sport, preparing them at the pre-Games camp with the crowd noise and din blaring over the loud speakers while the team practiced at the Perth Hockey Centre.
“All I wanted to do was to cap off a really good year,” Dwyer said.
“We’d played against India in India a few times… in front of crowds of over 20,000 people and you just cannot hear a thing.
“They are screaming so loud especially when India has the ball and they are going into attack.
“We knew what we were expecting and we really enjoyed that kind of vibe. You didn’t get too many opportunities to play in front of a crowd like that and we actually, as a team, thrived on it and wanted it.
“In the final against India we were 4-0 up at half-time and when we came back for the second half there was hardly anyone in the stands…it was good to get the job done…to go to India and play some good hockey; we did that and we smashed India in the final 8-0.
“The Commonwealth Games is always great; you’ve got that Olympic vibe happening in a Commonwealth Games and in hockey there are really good teams; it’s a good tournament and something I love.
“I went to three of them and I just loved every single one of them…. it was awesome.”
Jamie Dwyer in action at Delhi 2010 (CGA Archives)
Knowles said the final was three to four times bigger than he thought it was going to be but it turned out to be one of his most memorable games ever.
“I was thinking to myself during the early stages that we have never been this good as a team and we had not been able to do anything,” Knowles said.
“The level of India’s hockey in that final for the first 20 minutes was unbelievable.
“We were the number one team in the world, the world champions and we barely got out of our own half for the first 15 to 20 minutes.
“And I remember we scored a goal against the run of play and there was pure deflation and against a team that hadn’t won a lot so they probably didn’t understand how to win and that was one of our biggest things we talked about.
“I remember absorbing so much pressure, the noise and the heat.
“It was actually the hottest game I’ve ever played in of my 325 internationals and it was 46.4 degrees on the field… at 10 in the morning.
“I have never been so hot…. we had every single cooling device available and we walked out onto the field dressed in ice jackets and cold towels and in five minutes they were warm.
“It was like putting a warm towel over your head… oh my goodness, they had these massive stands spraying iced water on the dugouts.”
But it wasn’t just the immense heat the players were subjected to, head coach Charlesworth’s prediction of his team facing a cacophonous audio environment became reality, but the Knowles knew he and his teammates were ready for the challenge.
“The noise was incomparable to anything I’d ever experienced… it’s not performance related noise, just deafening noise,” Knowles said.
“But we were ready for any conditions and to play anyone. We walked out saying we are the Australian men’s hockey team and we are in front of the public so let’s just absolutely get at it and of course we absolutely hammered them and we’d been hammering everyone. We didn’t care that it was India. It was whomever we played.
“And I remember saying ‘far out Jamie, we’re just two kids from Rocky and there are 20,000 screaming Indians watching us in this final’.”
The Commonwealth Games was the first tournament the boys had played together since Knowles married Kelly and he admitted a different feeling when they’ve gone from mates to family.
“When you marry your team mate’s sister then your relationship changes. You have to be a bit serious,” Knowles said.
“But we often reflect and say ‘it wasn’t that long ago that we were playing on the grass fields back in Rocky… and we’ve never forgotten that.”
The duo thanking the supporters in Delhi (CGA Archives)
Dwyer said the pair had always had a really good, strong relationship, playing over 200 games for Australia together.
“From the Olympic Games in 2004 both our ultimate goals were realised, to win Olympic gold together in Athens was the highlight of our achievements and then there were Games like the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010 the World Cup win in 2010 was awesome,” Dwyer said.
“As well the Champions Trophy in 2009 when Knowlesy and I played really well, it’s moments like that you remember.
“And on our New Zealand trip we roomed together, we played particularly well in Invercargill the three games against the Kiwis.
“You stop and think ‘hey this is cool’ and in 2006 I roomed with Mark as well in Germany in the World Cup and then there’s the training, the travelling, we played in the same Indian Hockey League team together… and we spent a lot of time with each other in Europe although we played for different clubs we spent a lot of time together… so many memories with him.
“When you come from the same town, and with my cousin Matt Gohdes as well, who was on the Australian team for a long time.
“We knew each other and we were good mates and then we were all related… Mark married my sister Kelly and he became my brother-in-law… it was pretty special.
“We all went to Rio together and it was pretty special that we all grew up together, hung around each other and then went on to the Australian team, World Cups, Commonwealth Games and Olympics together.”
And when they get back to Rocky?
We walk into my parents’ house and there’s memorabilia, there are stories, there are photos of us all and it’s exactly the same at Jamie’s,” said Knowles.
“You don’t need to talk too much when you see all that and you know what we’ve been through together… it’s a nice feeling.”
The writing was on the scoreboard that Saturday morning in 1994 at Kalka Shades No 3…. Just a couple of country kids from Rocky, who went on to become Greater Together.