HOCKEY: FOR England goalkeeper James Fair, the Commonwealth Games mark the start of a crucial period for coach Jason Lee's talented young team.
Once the challenge for medals is over in Melbourne, Fair and his England teammates head to China for a World Cup qualifying tournament.
'The Commonwealth Games are obviously important and they will get the most media coverage, but the World Cup is the event hockey players want to play in,' said former Deeside Ramblers keeper Fair, from Pulford. 'The World Cup takes place in September but we need to finish in the top five of the qualifying tournament to make sure we're there.'
Fair heads for Australia on March 2 intent on adding to his tally of five caps.
Some warm-up matches Down Under present him with the chance to stake his claim for the number one shirt ahead of more experienced rival Jon Ebsworth, who has 28 England caps and 14 for Great Britain.
Fair was part of the England team that last month returned from South Africa with a 3-0 series victory under their belts.
After such a morale-boosting performance against a side ranked one place above England in the world order of merit, it came as no surprise when Fair was officially named in the national team's 16-man squad for the Games last week.
'Beating South Africa gave us a lot of encouragement,' said Fair. 'We won 3-2, 2-1 and 8-0 in the three matches and it's given us a lot of confidence.
'The Commonwealths will be the biggest tournament I've played in so far and it'll be the highlight of my career.'
Fair started his hockey career with Tarporley club Deeside Ramblers when he was just five years old. Now 25, he plays for National League side Cannock and has relocated from Pulford to Birmingham, where he works as a part-time hockey coach.
England's 16-man squad for the Games features four players who played for the Great Britain team that finished ninth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
England's men just missed out on the medals in fifth position at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealths. But they won bronze at the 1998 Kuala Lumpar games.
Currently ranked 11th in the world, they will be the sixth highest ranked team competing in Melbourne.
They have been drawn in a tough group with reigning Olympic and Commonwealth champions Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Scotland.
They open their account against New Zealand, ranked ninth in the world, on Friday, March 17, before playing Scotland the following day, Australia on Tuesday, March 21 and completing their pool matches against Canada on Wednesday, March 22.