This is the media release for what’s some pretty big news for those involved in Australian Volleyball (which I once was)…
One of Australia’s most celebrated men’s volleyballers, Dan Howard, has announced his retirement from the National team after Australia’s elimination from the Olympic Volleyball Qualification Tournament in Tokyo.
Howard, 31, regarded as one of the finest middle blockers in the game, represented Australia in both the Sydney and Athens Olympics and his imposing 208cm will be missed, as coach Russ Borgeaud begins his re-building campaign for London 2012.
The Italian-based Western Australian, who has battled both back and knee injuries in this campaign, made the announcement at the team’s final meeting following their 3-0 loss to Iran at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon.
Affectionately known as “Duck”, Howard waited until coach Borgeaud and captain Ben Hardy addressed the team, before dropping the bombshell that he had worn the green and gold for the final time.
“You know when it’s time and my body is telling me that another four years would be very tough indeed,” said Howard, who was named as the game’s best attacker after Australia’s eighth place at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
“But in saying that, making a decision to hang up the green and gold shirt after 14 years on the National team was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.
“It has been an amazing journey and I’m going to miss the camaraderie and playing for your country – it’s always very special.
“I am recently married and a man’s priorities change in life and while I will continue to play professionally with my club team in Italy, to devote the time to the National team would be a major strain.
“The travel is hard on the body and you just don’t recover like you used to when you were younger. My back gave me problems earlier in the campaign and I had to have an injection in my knee just to get through the tournament.
“In the professional league you only have to play once a week and there is time to recover and for rehab as well.”
Howard, who has played over 300 games for Australia, since making his debut in 1994, leaves a legacy that will hold Australia in good stead for the next four years.
He has no doubt that the sport is in very exciting hands, with a host of youngsters, who can carry the men’s volleyball flag towards London.
“I have no doubt Australian Volleyball will continue to rise, despite the results here, and the amount of talent in the senior group is very exciting indeed,” said Howard.
“They will all learn from this experience and will be much better players for it – I wish them all the best for what I’m sure will be great future for the men’s team.”
One of those players, South Australia’s big hitter, Nathan Roberts, was named as the Tournament’s second best attacker and he is just one of a host of young players who will take over the reigns left vacant by Howard.
Borgeaud payed tribute to Howard saying that taking the 208cm middle blocker out of the Australian line up will certainly leave a huge gap – in more ways than one.
“Dan has been an absolute ornament to the game and he has been at the forefront of our sport through two Olympic campaigns – a third would have been nice – but it wasn’t to be,” said Borgeaud.
“He will be missed as we start our campaign for London but as he said our team has an exciting future. On behalf of the team and Volleyball Australia I would like to congratulate him on an extraordinary career – he has done himself and Australia proud for over 14 years.”
Howard, who commands attention from the media and fans where ever he goes, will head back to his home in Western Australia this week, before joining his wife in Italy where he will again line up with the famed Acqua Paradiso Gabeca club in Montichiari (Brescia).
In the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, the ABC reported that Howard was recruited to Italian second division team Gioia de Colle in 1998-99, having played the previous season in Germany.
After two seasons with Gioia, he signed with Italian first division club Ferrara for the 2000-01 season. He was the number one blocker after the preliminary rounds of the World League in 1999 and the year before had been recognised as the best blocker at the Canada Cup.
He was regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in the international game and the Sydney Olympics loomed as a chance for Howard to establish himself among volleyball’s elite and he certainly did that with his best attacker award.
Howard first emerged as a 16-year-old playing for Esperance High School in Western Australia in 1993.
He was a part of the junior national team in 1994 and 1995 and joined the Volleyball Team Australia program at the Australian Institute of Sport the following year.
Such was his impact that he immediately became a member of the starting team.
Howard won the Ted Kalkhoven Award as the Australian male volleyball player of the year in 1997 and 1998.
He considers the gold medal as part of the Australian team at last year’s Asian Senior Volleyball Championships and his Sydney and Athens Olympic representation as his greatest achievements in the sport.