Friday 28 October 2016

O'Flynn's Olympic dream burns bright again

Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30

Audrey O'Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile
Audrey O'Flynn. Photo: Sportsfile

Audrey O'Flynn thought her chance had been and gone. Even now, four years on, when she recalls the defeat, she was convinced that her Olympic dream was over.

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It was March 2012 and Ireland women's hockey team were just one win from sealing their place at London but a 4-1 heartbreaking defeat against Belgium shattered their dreams.

O'Flynn's goal wasn't enough to inspire a comeback and two years later, she decided to quit the sport that had once promised so much.

Having made her debut in 2010, O'Flynn (above) went on to win an impressive 120 caps for Ireland but just three months before her side were due to begin their qualifying campaign for Rio, she felt that she had come to a crossroads in her career.

Stan McDowell, assistant coach with Ireland women's sevens team, had already been in contact with O'Flynn about the possibility of joining the IRFU's programme and in November 2014, a month after calling time on her hockey career, she decided to turn her attention to rugby.

Most players in the squad would be honest enough to admit that playing at the Olympics is very much a recent goal but for O'Flynn, it is something that she has dreamed of her whole life.

Last June, the hockey team's Olympic hopes were once again crushed, this time by USA.

Naturally, it was a difficult decision to turn her back on a sport that had given her so much but she felt that she had also given it a lot without getting much back in return.

Sevens will be played at the Olympics for the first time in Rio and for Ireland to qualify they must win the repechage tournament that takes place in UCD this weekend.

For O'Flynn who is now 29, it is another shot at fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

"It just got to a stage with hockey where everything had just gotten really stale, and I wasn't enjoying it for over a year. I just decided to call it a day," she explains.

"After people had heard that I'd stopped playing hockey, they were just like, 'God, brave decision', and I was just thinking, 'God, have I made the right decision!' People were saying, 'Are you mad?'

"Especially because I was probably playing my best hockey as well when I stopped, but I just felt when I wasn't enjoying it, there was no point. I really wasn't enjoying it.

"I had to give up loads for it. I moved up to Dublin from Cork, and the funding for it wasn't great. I had given up so much, and not getting as much back."

What O'Flynn may lack in rugby experience, she more than makes up for in her big-game temperament and that is vital amongst a squad that is still very much new to Sevens.

"I started hockey when I was 12, but before then Sonia O'Sullivan, she was just like an idol," the Cork native says.

"You just dream of the Olympics growing up. I played Gaelic football for a year when I was in the summer of fifth year in school. I played for a month, and that's my only exposure to GAA. Basically, my sporting background would have always been looking at the Olympics.

"With hockey, that's the main tournament. The Olympics is the be all and end all.

"With the rugby girls, I'd say at the start it was hard for them to get their head around the fact that there's an Olympics in the sport, because it's always been about the World Cup."

O'Flynn's career is a proof that second chances do come around and now that it has, she is determined to grab it with both hands.

Irish Independent

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