It’s the dream of any athlete to compete at an Olympics Games. To represent your country in front of millions of viewers and have a chance to hear your national anthem played while you stand proudly on a podium.
Roisin Upton is no different. Ever since she was young, she embraced the challenge of hockey in the hopes of one today tasting success in the sport. And hockey has been very good to her in return.
“I was sports mad when I was younger, I had two older brothers. Hockey was the main sport for girls when I got to secondary school so I gave it a go”, said Upton, a Circle K ambassador.
“I wasn’t really good by any means I was just strong and fast but there weren’t many skills. But it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the sport and I really loved the challenge of it not coming natural to me.
“The opportunities that has given me are immeasurable, to be honest.
“I had the chance to go to the University of Connecticut for four years, where I got my undergraduate degree over there. Since then, I’ve come home and got my first cap for Ireland.”
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Upton, injury hampering her early chances on the international stage, but the drive was evident.
She eventually made her senior debut in November 2016, and the following year, she was instrumental in helping Ireland to victory at the 2016/17 Women’s FIH Hockey World League Round 2 tournament. Thus began an incredible journey for Upton and the Irish women’s team.
In 2018, they became national heroes as the country watched in awe at Graham Shaw’s team who progressed to their first-ever World Cup final against the Netherlands.
Shaw stepped down in March of last year which came as a shock but new head coach Sean Dancer has only inspired the team to reach for greater heights.
“Sean comes from Oceania where the focus tends to be on a more attacking game and playing with more flair, as opposed to our traditional defensive strength, which was the basis of our game-plan.
“Because of the virus, we’re going to have more time with our head coach who was only appointed in 2019.
“And it’s a completely different style of hockey that he brings from Oceania.
“It’s much more attacking and much more flair than our usual defensive style, so we’ll get to embrace that for another year and see how much we can improve.
“We wanted to improve our threat going forward and it’s been really exciting. You need to have more than one trick.”
There was a magical moment in Dublin late last year as Ireland qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with victory over Canada. Fittingly, just as in their World Cup semi-final heroics, it was a penalty shoot out that got the country over the line.
Back in the World Cup, Ireland came in under the radar but at the Olympics, all their opposition will be aware of the threat Ireland can pose, as Upton admits.
However, the Limerick woman is undeterred. She has sacrificed a lot for her Olympic dream to become a reality and though the postponement was a setback, she is determined to make the most of the opportunity when it comes around.
“I think it probably didn’t sink in at the start, we were still training incredibly hard as we went into lockdown.
“We were probably a bit naive and a bit hopeful that the games might still go ahead.
“But it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when the games were postponed, when we got a provisional schedule of what the following year might look like that it started to hit home.
“Like all Team Ireland athletes we have to make so many sacrifices, I’ve put my career on hold as a primary school teacher.
“The plan was to put it on hold for the year and get back teaching in September, obviously the coronavirus has impacted that in its own way.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle for me and to give myself the best chance of making the squad and being on that plane next summer, I have to commit fully and that will mean putting teaching off for another year.”
Róisín Upton was speaking at the announcement of the continuation of Circle K’s ‘Here for Ireland’ initiative. Customers can scan the Circle K app or Play or Park loyalty tag in-store to generate digital coins, which Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls can use to fuel their journey to Tokyo.
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