Off the bench, into the spotlight

James Bailey

Great Britain goalkeeper James Bailey has plenty of strings to his bow: An MSci in Mathematics, grade eight in tuba and violin and of course, he is a fine goalkeeper. The Wimbledon stopper made his international debut back in June 2013 and has been to a number of major tournaments since then.

For Bailey, his tournament experience has largely been as a back-up to George Pinner, but with the Holcombe No1 staying at home for the World League Final in Raipur, Bailey has his chance to be in the spotlight, something he is relishing:

“I’m feeling really good. We’ve had a really solid post-European training block which has gone well club hockey’s been going well so I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing what I can do.”

Bailey admits that at times waiting in the wings can be a tough ask, with every athlete desperate to take to the field and show the skills they’ve honed in the training environment, but the 24-year-old is philosophical about his role in the squad at other tournaments:

“It’s difficult sometimes being the No2 goalkeeper as I have been in the past. You don’t aim for that role but equally you have an important job to do when you are in that situation. You have to support the No1 and the rest of the squad as best you can and be ready to step in when you get the chance. Of course I am looking forward to being given a chance at this tournament, but I have gained some valuable experience and learnt a lot from George [Pinner] at the previous competitions.”

James Bailey celebrates with David Ames at the World League semi final

The mention of Pinner and the other goalkeepers in the central training squad, Paddy Smith and Harry Gibson raises the question of what the dynamic is like in such a small, close-knit group. With four athletes spending large amounts of time training together, effectively competing for one spot, many would imagine it to be an often strained relationship. Bailey, rejects this idea, saying:

“All four goalkeepers are very different people, but that’s why it works. We’re four competitive blokes who spur each other along and get the best out of one and other but fortunately, there is a great dynamic between us. We have an excellent team spirit amongst the four of us, it’s competitive but we get on really well.”

With Gibson also travelling to Raipur for his first senior tournament, Bailey is the senior goalkeeper on this trip, a role he will take seriously in order to help his fellow shot-stopper to settle in:

“I’ll support Harry as best I can but to be honest; he’s played U21s and been exceptional at that level so I’m not sure he’ll need a lot of input from me! It’s a step up of course and I’ll be able to give him my thoughts on some of the players he’ll come up against, especially at corners but on the whole he knows what he’s doing and he’ll be fine. I just have to do my best to support him on the occasions he needs it.”

With a change in the goalkeeping dynamic for this competition, Bailey will need to be focused and at top form as he comes up against the best in the world. The list of attacking talent that will be present at the tournament makes for a formidable line-up, not that the goalkeeper is daunted by the prospect:

“Playing against the best players is the pinnacle and what you look forward to. It’s so different to warm up matches and friendlies when you play these people in tournaments so i’m really looking forward to testing myself and generally excited about the challenge and seeing how our team copes with that.”

“We’re targeting the semi finals. It’s hard to say how we’ll do as it’s a relatively new group and a new test for a lot of us. We don’t know how we’ll gel but we have some good strength in depth so we should get some good results.”

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