MEMORIAL MATCH: Don Birt, father of late soldier Ash Birt, with Cooloola Heat coach Neil McKean.
MEMORIAL MATCH: Don Birt, father of late soldier Ash Birt, with Cooloola Heat coach Neil McKean. LEEROY TODD

Gympie remembers soldier's sacrifice

Hockey: The sacred game in the Gympie sporting calendar marks the start of the hockey season while honouring Australian soldier Ashley Birt.

Ash wore the colours of both the Maryborough Brothers and Cooloola Heat and the two sides have been coming together for this game since 2012.

It is a way to celebrate the life of Ash that was cut short when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 at 22 years old.

"Brothers players have been keen to keep the game going. Since they are the ones that travel down each year, if they want to keep it going then so are we,” Cooloola Heat coach Neil McKean said.

"It has always been played in a bit of fun and doesn't matter who wins or loses it is more about the day,” McKean said.

"This game starts the season off for us and it is a way to get prepared for the year not for the competition.”

Ash's father Don Birt said he was looking forward to the game.

"It's a real privilege for us to have him (Ash) remembered,” he said.

"There is good support for the game and it was a great catch up with Ash's old mates.”

Ash's mother Linda Birt said Ash would be looking down on the game.

"While looking down he would say 'is this all for me?',” she said.

"When he played, he always played his best and went out to enjoy the game.

"He would always say it wasn't about winning or losing but if you won it was a bonus.”

Mrs Birt said she was hoping for another good game.

"It is humbling it (the game) has gone for this long,” she said.

The Heat side blooded players for last year who were looking to back up this year.

McKean said: "They will be back in speed with everything since playing last year. They will know what to expect this time around.

"We have four players away but otherwise we have the same side as last year.”

McKean said there were some younger players in the side that had not played with Ash but still knew the importance of it.

"Some would not have known Ash but they understand what the game is about,”he said.

Play will start on Saturday, March 3 at 2pm at Gympie Hockey Centre.

Gympie Times


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