The West

It was the hardest sporting decision he's ever had to make, but Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth says he was left with little choice but to end the Olympic dream of star hockey striker Des Abbott.

Abbott was initially selected in Australia's 16-man squad for the London Games, with Charlesworth hopeful the 26-year-old could shake off the effects of a degenerative knee injury that has plagued him since 2010.

But with Abbott still unable to perform close to his best, Charlesworth made the heart-wrenching call to cut him from the squad.

Victorian striker Russell Ford, who narrowly missed selection for the Beijing Games, will take Abbott's place.

Since making his international debut in 2007, Abbott has established himself as one of the best strikers in world hockey, scoring 59 goals in 109 matches.

He played a crucial role in Australia's bronze-medal campaign in Beijing, and became the first male Aboriginal athlete to represent the men's hockey team at the Olympics.

Charlesworth, who coached the men's squad for eight years before linking up with the men three years ago, said it was heartbreaking when he delivered the news to Abbott.

"Des is a brilliant player and it hurts him very much. It's the hardest thing I've had to do in my coaching stint," Charlesworth said.

"He's an outstanding player, one of the best in the world in his position. But in his present fitness he can't give us that, so we've had to make an adjustment.

"He was very brave (when told the news) but he was very distressed.

"His father was with him at the time, and hopefully provided support, and we're providing all the support we can.

"It's never easy."

The Kookaburras are hot favourites to win gold in London and Charlesworth is confident the loss of Abbott won't leave the team vulnerable.

"This team is bigger than any one player," Charlesworth said.

Ford, 28, described his call-up at the expense of his good mate Abbott as a bitter-sweet moment.

"I feel really bad for him. Hopefully I can do him proud when we go over there," Ford said.

"I just said to him: 'I know there's nothing I can say, but I'm really sorry'.

"We've been friends for a long time and he was so good.

"He just wrote back to me and said: 'Don't be sorry. Congratulations, and I'm so happy for you. Just go there and enjoy it'.

"He's awesome.

"I know that Dessy will be in my mind when I'm over there.

"Maybe I'll have to do some tribute for him. I'll see what Dessy wants me to do."

NZ Newswire

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