Monday 21 January 2019

World Cup final is only the start for us - Pinder

Ireland players (l-r) Nicola Daly, Roisín Upton, Deirdre Duke, Zoe Wilson and Elena Tice celebrate with their silver medals. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
Ireland players (l-r) Nicola Daly, Roisín Upton, Deirdre Duke, Zoe Wilson and Elena Tice celebrate with their silver medals. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Never before has such a comprehensive World Cup final defeat felt like the start of something special, rather than the painful end of the road.

The beaming smiles etched across the faces of the 18 heroines who walked to the podium to collect their silver medals reflected the mood of a proud nation.

Only a few days ago, thousands of people in the country had never seen a game of hockey before, let alone realised the history that their women's team stood on the verge of creating.

After all, here were a bunch of amateurs taking it to the world's best, and while it was a bittersweet ending against a masterful Netherlands side, there was no shame in losing to the best team in the world.

One by one, the Irish players filtered through the mixed zone, tricolours draped across their broad shoulders, the glisten of their silver medals radiating the room.

The obvious disappointment at not having fired a shot in the decider was palpable, but the country's most-capped international sportswoman Shirley McCay summed up it perfectly.


"We gave a good account of ourselves and we probably have no regrets but class showed. Yesterday (semi-final win over Spain) was our final, we put a lot into that."

As the dust settles on this truly staggering achievement, the heavy 6-0 defeat should not mask just how special this journey has been.

Since the start of the tournament, the Irish players have played with a joyous freedom, and their laid-back approach paid dividends as they upset the big guns.

It said so much about the mindset of this group that despite having just reached a first World Cup final, their attentions were already beginning to turn towards qualifying for the Olympics in two years' time.

After all, this was a journey that began in 2015, when the width of a post came between Ireland and making it to Rio as they lost a penalty shootout to China.

"Absolutely, this is only the start for us," Gillian Pinder, who scored the decisive penalty against Spain, said.

"We've now put ourselves on the map of where we want to be. We want to qualify for Tokyo. We definitely want to be there. It's the start of a new journey."

Ultimately, the last two weeks have been about the bigger picture for Irish hockey. This team have showed what they are capable of on a shoe-string budget, which begs the question, what would they, and indeed the men's team, be able to achieve if they had greater financial backing?

"I think the challenge lies in how often we can get the group together," head coach Graham Shaw admitted.

"That's the big problem we always face. When they're based all around Ireland, it's very, very difficult to get them together.

"Then when we do get them together, we're trying to rent pitches. We end up scattered around as a senior squad, U-21s squad, U-18s squad.

"They're challenges we now need to overcome. Is it a big gap? No. We're well capable of qualifying for Tokyo. The rankings will put us in a really strong position to do so. When we qualify for Tokyo then we will be setting our sights on medalling in Tokyo."

The Dubliner believes that it is time for the powers that be to back Irish hockey.

"I think so," Shaw insisted. "If people can't get behind the sport now and see what we can achieve and the rewards we can give the Irish community and also if we can put long-term strategies in place, we can achieve this in the future again.

"There is enough talent in Ireland to win medals in this sport. There is no doubt in my mind about that. It is about giving them the platform to succeed.

"Hopefully the people who came over to support, the people at home watching on TV, now can truly see which way this sport needs to be played.

"This is what we need to aim for now in how we coach our young kids, how we coach our schools, how we coach our clubs. This is hockey at the very, very highest level and hopefully now people can see that."

The gulf in class was obvious, yet Ireland were valiant in their approach and refused to throw in the towel, despite being outplayed.

There was, however, never any fear of this team being out-fought.

"We spoke at the start that it was important that we raise the profile of hockey," McCay added.

"We're not in a fortunate position where we can just say, 'we don't need to showcase our ability.' It's important to promote the sport in terms of sponsorship and funding. We're aware of that.

"I think this is the start of something special. It's really important that we build from here and make sure that every step is a positive one.

"We're used to the emotions of the lows, as opposed to the highs. I think when we get home, we will reflect on it and realise what we have done for this sport and for the people of Ireland as well."

The squad will return to Dublin today and the welcome that awaits will be like nothing they have ever received.

The nation has bought into their inspirational journey, and now the players are more determined than ever to prove that this wasn't a once-off.

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