Jennifer O'Leary recalls her sporting highlight from 2018
HOCKEY has always been a sporting love of mine – and has been ever since my first day at Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty.
We were only in the door when my soon-to-be brilliant coach and PE teacher, Robbie O’Donoghue, approached many of the ‘Barryroe’ girls. He was the school hockey coach and he knew we were camogie players.
Camogie players were supposed to make good hockey players, and so started my love of the game.
From then on I played right through my six years in school, my first year in UL with the college team and when qualified I returned to hockey joining Belvedere Hockey Club in Ballincollig.
It opened up other avenues such as playing with Munster one summer and moving up divisions with the club.
Having seen Irish hockey reignite with the Irish team’s astounding success, I have to admit that the cravings to return to the game certainly were there – and I jumped on the bandwagon as they went all the way to the World Cup final this past summer.
With the added bonus of Twitter feeds and other social media platforms informing us of their progress in London, it was difficult not to get caught up in the hype and excitement and enjoy their fairytale unfolding across the water.
Being the second lowest ranking team in the World Cup championships at number 16, it didn’t advertise Irish Hockey’s prospects in a hopeful light. But that is why their story of reaching their first-ever World Cup final in August really struck a chord with the nation and beyond.
With wins over the US, India and Spain in the semi-finals, it highlighted the power of the extreme underdog, the explosive belief of 18 girls who have regular jobs like you and me, and the strength of a hard-working collective who showed an unerring determination to make history.
They defied the odds and played with a confidence no-one could shake, no-one that is until they met the current world cup champions, The Netherlands. However, despite losing 6-0 to a highly professional and well-funded outfit, the Irish girls put in a tremendous fight and never gave up until the 70 minutes were up.
This team achieved success beyond their wildest dreams. It must still feel like a blur and a pinch-me moment as they look at their silver medals hanging in their homes. They now have the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in their sights and this year’s success should now put them in a confident mind-set as they are now eighth in the world rankings.
These amazing women have inspired the many thousands of young hockey children to pick up a stick and experience the highly skilful field sport.
Clubs are now brimming with newcomers who want to be the next Gillian Pinder scoring a penalty stroke in a major final, or a shot-stopper like Ayeisha McFerran saving the day and winning goalkeeper of the tournament. Their achievements cannot go unnoticed this year – and this amazing team’s story is my personal sporting highlight of the year.