Africa Cup: A big mental test for Ugandan players

Talking Game. Coach Nsereko (C) offers pep talk to the Hockey She Cranes during a training breather at the Lugogo Hockey Astro-turf pitch. PHOTO/MAKHTUM MUZIRANSA

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Hockey. Both team’s head coach Francesco Richichi, who describes his colleagues as “good coach” and “good communicator” respectively agrees but warns Ghana “will test the players’ mentality.” 

After over two months of training, Ugandap coaches Vincent Kasasa (men) and Moses Nsereko (women) believe their hockey teams are ready for the January 17-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana. 

Both team’s head coach Francesco Richichi, who describes his colleagues as “good coach” and “good communicator” respectively agrees but warns Ghana “will test the players’ mentality.” 

Richichi, 61, has spent 48 years playing and coaching hockey - including leading his hometown club Catania’s women’s side to six championships in eight years (1988 and 1996).

In 2018, after discovering Uganda, he moved to Galatea for which he has recruited Ugandan players Timothy Ntumba and Ashiraf Tumwesigye. “Coach has some of the best young players in Italy. I actually learnt the drag flick from one of them who is just 14 years. “But not only that, he has a hockey museum at home – rooms full of medals and trophies he has won,” Ntumba shared.

Job at hand
Richichi, who has taken three other Ugandans; Innocent Mbabali (Bologna), Emmanuel Baguma (Pistoia) and Colline Batusa (now Ragusa from Pistoia) to Italy – earning himself endearment from players hungry for more – believes the sky is the limit for Uganda but it starts in Ghana.

“I was doing some humanitarian work in Rwanda when, out of curiosity, I travelled here.  
“My search for a sports centre led me to Lugogo, where I found Hamidah (Kagga from Weatherhead Hockey Club). My love for Ugandan hockey has been growing since. 

I take these players to Italy to give them more competitive experiences which they can transfer back to the national team.

In this moment, I feel the men will have good games against Ghana and Nigeria.

The girls, I hope will not be emotional. Zimbabwe and Namibia players run a lot but anything is possible if our player give their best for all minutes.”

The sacrifice
In Ghana, Richichi might be joined by fellow volunteers and countrymen Antonio Spignolo and Massimiliano Paolotroni, who were in November appointed by Uganda Hockey Association (UHA) as goalkeeping coach and physiotherapist respectively. “Antonio, member of the new Italian hockey executive board, couldn’t come to Uganda before January 6.

“The Covid situation in Italy is also not good as we were getting over 1000 cases a day before Christmas.

We were also being allowed just 30 days Visas instead of 90. On top of paying for Covid tests in Italy ($50 or about Shs180,000), Entebbe ($30 or about Shs108,000) and in Ghana ($150 or about Shs540,000). On returning to Italy, I have to be quarantined for 10 days even though I have taken three Covid vaccine shots (two Pfizer and one Moderna).

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