Sunday 21 October 2018

How love of the game drove Irish amateur hockey heroes to brink of World Cup glory

Ireland players celebrate with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after their victory in a penalty shootout during the Women's Hockey World Cup Finals Quarter-Final match between Ireland and India at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in QE Olympic Park, London, England. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile
Ireland players celebrate with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran after their victory in a penalty shootout during the Women's Hockey World Cup Finals Quarter-Final match between Ireland and India at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in QE Olympic Park, London, England. Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile

Laura Lynott

THEY are a team of young women, and friends, who share one strong desire – to put women’s hockey on the map in Ireland and to finally achieve sporting equality.

The Irish hockey team have already made history by reaching the World Cup semi-final. No men’s or women’s hockey team from Ireland has ever made it this far before.

And all eyes will be on the team today as they compete against Spain for a chance at World Cup glory in the final tomorrow in London.

But unlike the footballers and rugby stars that usually grab the headlines, these women don’t have the luxury of playing sport for a living.

Forward Nikki Evans (28), from Clonskeagh, Dublin, comes from a sporting family and she has juggled academia and being a talented athlete since national school.

But even a career in law – Nikki qualified as a solicitor two years ago – couldn’t stop her love for a game that may not be financially rewarding, yet offers so much more to her and her counterparts.

“Nikki has always loved hockey,” her mother Linda told the Irish Independent. “To be where she and the girls are now today, with the possibility of a World Cup final, is unprecedented.  They’ve already made history.

“We’re so proud of the team, the atmosphere is surreal – people who know nothing about hockey see the green shirts and are supporting them.

“Nikki qualified as a lawyer two years ago and was working for a law firm but at the end of last summer, she made the huge decision to play hockey for UHG Hamburg and she’s been playing at such a high level.”

The former UCD student is now preparing to continue playing for the German side but she will be returning to law, as she’ll be working part-time for a law firm there while training hard.

“They were the underdogs and now they have the world at their feet,” Linda said.

“We met parents of the English players and they told us [their] team is funded with millions of pounds and the Irish team receives thousands.

“America is funded with millions too. These teams are professional and get paid professionally – but the Irish team doesn’t get paid and that’s one of the biggest things that should change.”

Chloe Watkins (26), from Killiney, Co Dublin, scored the penalty that sent the side into the semi-finals and her dad, former Ireland hockey player Gordon, was still on cloud nine yesterday.

“There’s no feeling to describe how proud of Chloe I am,” Gordon said. 

“Chloe was determined to play hockey from a very young age and she’s done it and to the highest standard. I’m so proud of my daughter for everything she is.

“She’s worked so hard, she can’t tolerate cheats or bullies and she’s been brought up to respect the underdog.”

As a child, Chloe always stood up for those who were picked on, her father explained, and she chose hockey mainly for “the social side” of life. 

And like all her teammates, she’s not only a talented athlete – but also academic.

“Chloe studied at UCD and gained a degree in Spanish and commerce,” Gordon said.

“She’s very keen to become an accountant and because I know how determined she was with hockey, I know my daughter will get just what she wants.”

Ireland play Spain in the Women’s Hockey World Cup semi-final today at 2pm.

The game will be aired live on RTÉ 2.

The time and channel for the final or third-place play-off tomorrow will be highlighted after the semi-final.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport