The boys at St Peter’s Preparatory School in Johannesburg sat glued to their TV screens early last Sunday morning and witnessed a magical goal.
It was a never-to-be forgotten moment as the South African men’s hockey team’s goalscorer is their teacher, Thornton “Blade” McDade.
The occasion was the emotion-charged final of the Olympic Qualifier Tournament at Gifu Green Stadium in the sleepy country town of Kakamigahara in Japan and the opponents were none other than the Samurai, the Japanese national team.
That goal set the tone for SA’s agonisingly close 2-1 win and earned the men in green and gold the cherished last remaining ticket to the London 2012 Olympic Games men’s hockey event, which flicks off on July 30.
Wednesday was McDade’s first day back at school and he will cherish it forever.
“I saw all the boys and staff in green and gold, thought it was civvies day and could have kicked myself for arriving in a jacket and tie,” he said.
“But it was all for me, posters and well-wisher cards … not expecting anything but a normal day back at work, it was an incredibly emotional moment. I was absolutely blown away and it made me realise how impressionable young children are and what a massive difference my example can make.”
McDade has every faith in his team-mates for Project London.
“This special SA team will give a performance at London 2012 that will inspire South Africans, young and old, to be proud of us.
“They were so amazing in their support while we were in Japan. You could almost feel it although we were thousands of kilometres away.
“It meant an incredible amount to us and spurred us on in difficult moments, knowing we were playing with the whole country right behind us.”
McDade approaches every South Africa match as if it might be the final curtain.
“I play every game as if it could be my last – I don’t want to leave any ‘if onlys’ out there.
“I want to finish every game knowing that I could not have given anything more and come off without any regrets,” says the striker, who might find the time to fulfil a long-held desire to learn how to play a musical instrument when he finally hangs up his stick.
Now 31, the ‘Blade’ is still running, and the oldest man in the team is convinced the 2012 squad is special.
“Our results have shown the SA public that we are doing something special and our process is working. The lads have a special vibe that makes us super-competitive.”
Motivation has never been a problem for the Southern Gauteng frontman.
“My Christian faith and the opportunity to always become better keep me working hard.
“Family has always been important. I have a very supportive wife in Lara; and my mom, who has also played for South Africa, has always been a super-keen follower.
“My brother Stuart is my biggest fan – and I am his – and a real source of encouragement and enthusiasm.”
What does London 2012 mean for the Beijing 2008 Olympian?
“The opportunity of putting the Beijing performances to bed and the chance to play for the best SA men’s hockey team of all time.
“It would be a chance to be part of a team that has a will and potential to achieve something greater than any other SA team. We have to show that dreams can be achieved despite all the odds.”
You can bet your life that the youngsters at St Peter’s will be huddled around the TV set willing “Sir” to even greater heights come July 30.