Over the summer the Irish women’s hockey team lit up the world stage and captured the hearts of Irish fans as they reached the World Cup final in London, something no team in any sport in Ireland had ever done before.
The team had an unprecedented run, defeating the likes of Spain and India en route to a history-making final, despite Graham Shaw’s side being ranked 16th in the world going into the tournament.
One player who was crucial to their success was 26-year old Chloe Watkins. “It’s been amazing,” she smiles as she’s asked about the heroes welcome and subsequent reaction, that the team received for their history-making exploits.
“I think the craziest thing has just been the number of people talking about hockey and recognising ‘oh you’re on the hockey team’. That’s still hard to believe and to get your head around really.
“There are still things popping up every day, it’s great coverage, we’re just delighted with it.”
Ireland’s run to the final was not without drama. They had to suffer through the nail-biting tension of two penalty shoot-outs, against India in the quarter-final and Spain in the semi-final.
Watkins was a key figure in both, coolly slotting away a penalty in each of the shoot-outs, including the winner against India.
The Monkstown player, however, was keen to explain that the heroics of Ayeisha McFerran in the Irish goal was a huge help in taking the pressure off Watkins and the rest of the penalty takers.
“Ayeisha was making so many saves I really felt it took the pressure off us as takers,” said Watkins.
“When it came down to it, it was just such an exciting opportunity to get into a semi-final. You’ve trained for so long and you’re always thinking of moments like that where it’s going to be worth it. So it’s more exciting to be in a position like that, and to be in that kind of situation.”
“I know Gillian (Pinder) says she doesn’t have a plan in her head when she goes up to take them. I would definitely. A vague enough plan, but I certainly would have an idea of what I am going to do.
“It was definitely harder to watch than to actually be involved with. Those things are always tenser from the outside.”
The impact of the team’s achievements on a grander scale likely won’t be felt for many years. It will take time to build the game to match the success of the team. Watkins outlines, however, that she has already seen an impact in some levels of hockey.
“I’ve definitely seen an impact at junior levels, just with numbers and interest. I know loads of clubs are already saying their junior sections are off the charts with requests from kids trying to come and play, which is great.
“For the senior programme and the national programme, we haven’t seen the impact just yet, because obviously it’s so soon after, but hopefully, we can see some benefit to the programme in next few months.”
Chloe Watkins was speaking at the announcement of FBD Insurance and The Olympic Federation of Ireland’s sponsorship of Team Ireland through to 2020.