Ollie Payne: "I definitely feel as prepared as I can be"

Ollie Payne 2018 Sultan of Johor Cup
Ollie Payne’s introduction to the senior Great Britain set up certainly wasn’t conventional.

Having been offered a place in the programme during the Covid-19 pandemic, the 21-year-old goalkeeper joined up with the squad when they began a phased Return To Training programme at the end of last month.

As if making the step up to begin training full-time with the country’s best wasn’t daunting enough, doing so under unique circumstances could have made that even more of a nerve-wracking prospect.

But, despite the restrictions currently in place to prevent the squad catching or spreading coronavirus, the Devon-born player thoroughly enjoyed his first few practices with the team.

“The first session was really weird to start with because there were so many different precautions put in place - you had to follow social distancing, get temperature checked at the start of the session,” the Durham University graduate said.

“It all felt a little bit new but the second session felt a little bit more normal, people were a little bit more relaxed. It’s been fun but a bit strange.

“It's good fun. Obviously it’s the highest standard you can get in this country so it’s very challenging but it’s very fun trying to see if you can get up to that standard.”

There were plenty of familiar faces there to help ease any nerves Payne may have had. He had already attended a handful of training sessions with the squad before lockdown while he played alongside Jack Waller and Rhys Smith at Durham University.

All three athletes were also part of the Great Britain Elite Development Programme (EDP) and Payne’s selection now means a total of 11 players have transitioned from the programme to earn full-time places in the senior teams.

“First coming down to train last year, having some familiar faces was so important,” Payne recalled. 

“It relaxes you, reassures you and takes your mind off outside worries and pressures and makes you play. There’s also quite a few lads who I knew from the U21s and the EDP and that was brilliant, they’ve all been really nice and very welcoming into the group.

“The amount of graduates [from the EDP] speaks for itself. From my experiences, it’s a brilliant programme and will hopefully prepare me for moving into the full-time programme. With the training you get and the amount of contact time, I definitely feel as prepared as I can be.”

The last two years have certainly been full of success for the former Dart HC goalkeeper. He was part of the GB U21 squads that won the 2018 and 2019 Sultan of Johor Cups; the England U21 team that claimed a historic European silver last summer and the Durham University outfit that clinched a dramatic BUCS title in 2018.

“Coming second at the Euros will be a tournament I’ll always remember. That was a brilliant, brilliant tournament to be a part of,” he said. 

“In the lead up to that we lost to all of the teams – Belgium, Netherlands, Germany – that we would end up playing against so no-one backed us. It was nice to show that we were good enough to be there. 

“Winning BUCS was pretty unbelievable because you’re playing with your best mates and that’s something you’ll always remember and take pride in and take away from university life.”

There have been plenty of individual rewards for Payne too as he was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament at both of the Sultan of Johor Cups where GB took gold.

But for him this is not just a reflection of his own performances; it’s recognition for the fantastic work of the defensive unit in front of him too.

“It's obviously always nice getting personal accolades at the end of tournament. But it’s just rewarding to see that all the hard work at that tournament recognised,” he said. 

“You see a lot of those awards go to the team with the best defensive records, so the goalkeeper gets a lot of the glory. But I know I wouldn’t have got those awards if I didn’t have such a brilliant defence around me.”

Great Britain’s men and women are next due to be in action when they head to The Netherlands and Belgium for the resumption of the FIH Hockey Pro League in late October/early November.

They are then due to host Germany on 14/15 November (almost certainly behind closed doors) before welcoming Argentina, India, USA, China and Spain next summer.