Olympic dream for Irish hockey team threatened by Tokyo postponement

Olympic dream for Irish hockey team threatened by Tokyo postponement

Roisin Upton of Ireland scores her penalty during the shootout during the Women's Hockey World Cup Finals quarter-final. Picture: Craig Mercer/Sportsfile

LIKE all sports, hockey is no different with all activities cancelled for the foreseeable future.

And like everyone else they simply don't know when they will return to action, both locally, nationally and internationally.

The Munster senior cup finals were due to take place on St Patrick's Day, one of the highlights of the domestic season, but they had to be postponed.

On the national front games in the EY Irish Hockey League are off and this potentially could pose problems down the line, pending on the international women's side in particular.

This week the women's senior team should have been touching down in South Africa for a series of warm-up matches against England, China and South Africa ahead of the Olympics.

When they decided to cancel the trip the Irish Hockey Association issued a statement saying: “Having monitored the situation over the previous weeks and given the escalation of measures being taken here in Ireland to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Hockey Ireland Irish Senior Women’s team management has taken the decision to cancel the women’s trip to South Africa.

“The squad had originally been scheduled to travel to South Africa for warm-up matches against South Africa, England, and China early next week for a block of warm weather training and exposure to match play in conditions similar to those expected in Tokyo later this summer.

“The squad will no longer be travelling to South Africa and will therefore fall under the Hockey Ireland COVID-19 policy guidelines which were issued to the Hockey Ireland community recently.” Effectively this means the same as other sports where there is to be no training in groups, no games or activities of any sort around the game until further notice.

Commenting on the decision Hockey Ireland Performance Director, Adam Grainger, said: “After a robust and productive conversation with players and staff, management decided to cancel the trip to Durban.

“The concern expressed by players and staff combined with 'Coronavirus unknowns' made the decision to cancel this trip the best solution.

This decision was not taken lightly, and Hockey Ireland would like to thank the squad for their patience on this matter. We will now review and seek to amend the programme plan for the squad for the next few weeks.” Not an ideal situation for the women's senior team as they prepare for the Olympics, which are currently scheduled to go ahead but there is now a big fear they could be postponed or even cancelled.

This is the first time that the women's team have qualified for the games, after their win over Canada in the qualifying games late last year in Dublin.

One of the players that is currently worried about whether she will get to go to the Olympics is former Harlequins star, Roisin Upton.

Roisin has returned to play hockey this year with Catholic Institute but was a massive player in the Quins set-up for a number of years.

She fully acknowledges that there is far more at stake here than just playing in the Olympics, but also says they have to keep it in mind in case the games do go ahead.

“The South Africa tour was a huge event on our Olympic calendar; three weeks in the heat getting eight tests against three different nations with the humidity,” said Rosin.

“It’s something we are all looking forward to. There wasn’t a ban in place at the time to stop us travelling so it was an in-house decision, a tough one at that, but there are more important things in life than sport.

“Essentially, we are in the same lockdown as everyone else. We can’t get together as a squad so much of the work we will be doing will be physical by ourselves.” 

Roisin is lucky in that she has access to pitches at Crescent Comprehensive and Catholic Institute’s grounds while she is also using some of her brother’s dumbbells and kettlebell.

Like all others, Roisin had been hearing the growing calls for the games to be postponed for a year, but she said they have to focus on the competition going ahead as planned.

“You hear it. Everyone has an opinion about what should happen,” she said.

“There’s just so much unknown and so much uncertainty and so many questions. It is hard to have a contingency plan for something like this.

“All we can try and do is stay focused on the day-to-day. The Olympics is still scheduled for the exact same time and the exact same place. Nothing has changed.

“We do have to adapt but that is one of the things Sean (Dancer, Irish senior women's coach) has echoed since he came into our squad – ‘those that can adapt are the ones who will succeed’.

“This is another test for us. There is a bigger picture out there and a lot more important issues than our team, but we are trying to stay focused in the hope that the games go ahead.” 

For Harlequins Yvonne O'Byrne, from an Irish squad viewpoint, the shutdown is not helping her chances of getting back into the squad.

Yvonne O'Byrne in action for Cork Harlequins against UCD.
Yvonne O'Byrne in action for Cork Harlequins against UCD.

She is currently in the expanded training panel having recovered from a severe foot injury that kept her out for several months.

According to Harlequins coach Darren Collins, Yvonne is playing some of the best hockey he has ever seen her play and he can't understand why she is not in the match squad.

The last few rounds of the EY Irish Hockey League would have given her a massive opportunity to show how well she has been playing and like others Yvonne may not find herself looking on, mainly due to lack of time involved preparation wise. 

Like all sports when they will be back in action is not known at this point, but May or even June is looking most likely and whether the EY IHL will even be finished this season, or indeed any local Munster competitions will only be known in time.

In the meantime all the Irish players can do is keep training on their own and hope that all goes back to normal sooner rather than later.

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