Iain Lewers, Hockey's Hope
Having switched allegiance from Ireland to England, the Belfast defender is keen to silence his critics
As Irish hockey fans get used to the fact that neither the men nor women’s teams will be competing at London 2012 this summer, they can take some solace from knowing that one former performer in the green shirt will be on Olympics duty for Great Britain.
Defender Iain Lewers, once of Annadale and Ulster, was well on course to win a century of Ireland caps before making the decision four years ago to switch allegiance to England. Having served out a three year quarantine period – give or take six weeks – he made his return to the international scene with Team GB in May 2011 against Malaysia.
Ironically his first England cap came against Ireland in last August’s European Championships in Monchengladbach, Germany where Lewers, who now plays for Loughborough Students, featured in the 4-2 victory over his former colleagues.
Lewers’ love of hockey began when he was six, and he quickly progressed from the Annadale underage and junior teams into the Ulster set up. He made his debut for Ireland’s U16s in 2000 in Sicily and went on to be part of the U18 side that won the European Cup two years later.
A first senior cap came against Wales in 2004 in a scoreless draw in the Celtic Cup and in the next four years he amassed another 88 caps globetrotting with Ireland to tournaments including a Beijing Olympics qualifier.
At club level, Lewers pursued a professional career in Holland where he played with the very successful Hoofdklasse side HGC. In an interview at the time Iain said of his decision to move to the Hague, 'I decided to go as it was too good an opportunity to just ignore'.
'The HGC coach came and watched me play against Holland and after several meetings with him, I agreed to join them for initially one season. Although I play with a lot of my mates in Ireland at Annadale and have a lot of good friends outside hockey back home, I really wanted to develop myself as a hockey player and experience a different life and culture, so I’m now here living in Holland.'
The 28 year old cites Roy Keane as the sportsman whom he most admired because of the former Manchester United star’s desire to win, and when he decided to declare for Great Britain, it showed his own ambition to aim for gold before his playing days are over.
'It was a cross roads in my life. I had just finished at university and debating whether to push on with hockey in Holland where I was playing or to come back to England and get a job,' he told the BBC. 'I weighed up everything up and each time it came down on the side of England and Great Britain.'
Cutting his ties with Ireland was a painful process, but one which he felt was necessary. 'It was a bitter split. They were quite public about it. I can’t help how people feel about that. I explained my reasons to them.'
And having thrown his lot in with England, the Belfast man had to wait patiently for his chance to come. In late 2010 he suffered a groin injury that sidelined him for several months. And when he was chosen to travel to the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, Lewers grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
'While it was a long way to go to get a first cap, it was fantastic. It was a really great honour. There were some difficult dark times during that three year period, but each time when I re-evaluated it, it always came back to you’re doing the right thing. It’ll come good.'
And should Lewers make it through to gold medal place with the Great Britain hockey team, he won’t be the first Northern Ireland player to have enjoyed that experience. In 1988, at the Seoul Games, Jimmy Kirkwood and Stephen Martin were proud winners of gold, too. 'It would be great to do what they did,' says Lewers.