Quiet achiever perfect fit to carry flag
MAL MENINGA calls him Cameron Smith with a hockey stick and he might just be the most honourable Australian sportsman you have never met.
The appointment of Rockhampton raised Australian hockey captain Mark Knowles to carry the Australian flag is just recognition for a career as exceptional as it has been understated.
In a week in which Australia's sporting reputation has been dragged through the gutter Knowles is a surprise yet wonderful choice for he embodies so much of what Australia's cherishes in its best sportsmen, even if he does not have the profile of our leading swimmers and track stars.
His is a sporting story of love not money, of sincerity rather than sledging, of hard yakka not hubris.
Hockey players earn a pittance compared to football and cricket stars yet Knowles devotion to his sport knew no bounds and his professional standards would equal or eclipse professional cricketers earning 20 times as much.
Knowles' wife Kelly is the sister of Australia's greatest hockey player, Jamie Dwyer, and when you visit his house in South Brisbane you notice each of his three children Flynn, Luca and Frankie have their own sticks.
After leaving Rockhampton, he lived in Perth for 14 years to be part of the national program and he is so popular among his teammates that they still wanted him to captain the side at the Commonwealth Games - his farewell international tournament - even though they train together in Perth and he has just moved to Brisbane.
"It's been a great journey and I have a lot to be thankful for,'' Knowles, 33, said.
"I've been able to get absolutely every bit of talent out of what I have. I'm someone who has pride in myself in my ability to work hard, do extra and adapt to the new style and the way the game has grown in the past 15 years.''
Of all the compliments Knowles has received in a career of 312 games for Australia and only men's Olympic hockey gold medal in 2004, the sweetest came over the phone from Australian rugby league coach Mal Meninga a few weeks ago.
The Kookaburras leadership group have been linked with former top sportsmen and businessmen to improve their skills and Meninga said watching Knowles play reminded him of Australian rugby league great Cameron Smith.
"Mal said Smith does not just play he coaches on the field. He is an assistant coach. He said I am doing that and should do it more. I spoke to our coaches and they said Mal was right," Knowles said.
"Here I am at the end of my career and Mal says something that completely changed the way I thought of myself.
"When you get a compliment like that it makes everything you have done feel worthwhile. I will never forget it. It was very special to me.''
Knowles' appreciation for what the game has given to him was accentuated when he joined the Punjab Warriors in the Indian Hockey League and saw how some young Indian players were financially struggling.
"The team was staying in a seven star hotel and we were eating eggs benedict and having four coffees a day but some of the Indian players had families who did not even have rooms to live in.
"So they would stay with the players who would be paying not simply for their families but their communities. You had situations where some players would sleep on the floor so their families could sleep in their beds.''
Knowles retires without any regrets and, upon retirement, will step up his role at the Queensland Academy of Sport as a personal development officer.
"I will be at work the Monday morning after the Games and I cannot wait - helping other athletes along their journey has to be one of the greatest jobs you could have.''