The Leeside legends series: Rachael Kohler was the queen of Irish hockey

The Leeside legends series: Rachael Kohler was the queen of Irish hockey
Harlequins captain Rachael Kohler in the Irish hockey final in 2000. Picture: INPHO/Andrew Paton

RACHAEL KOHLER is one of the greats of Irish hockey, revered as a player.

Mention her name to anyone who has even a passing interest in ladies’ hockey and you will invariably receive an enthusiastic response.

Kohler’s dedication to the sport has been incredible, and her skill and stamina, along with her composure, were standout features of her game. Her leadership qualities made her a role model for all aspiring young players.

Born in 1974, Kohler began playing hockey for her school, Roxboro, and, five years later, she joined Harlequins.

Kohler continued her hockey education at University College Cork, helping it to win two intervarsity titles.

She won many international honours, at U16, U18, U21, and senior levels, and has represented Munster at all age groups.

She has won the Munster Senior League and Cup on numerous occasions, with Harlequins, but her greatest triumph came when her club won the 2000 Irish Women’s Cup and the European Club Championship.

Kohler has amassed a staggering 166 caps and was once Ireland’s most capped women’s hockey player.

Distinction:

Kohler also had the distinction of playing in two World Cups with Ireland, in 1994 and 2002, the latter in Australia, where she captained the side.

“The trip to the World Cup was probably my best experience in hockey, as it gave me the opportunity to play against the top players in the sport and it truly was a wonderful experience,” Kohler says.

“We finished 15th out of the 16 nations, but, with a bit of luck, we could have clinched 12th place,” she says.

Commitment, natural ability, and hard training are vital to compete at the top level in hockey, or in any sport, Kohler says.

The best moment of her career, outside of captaining Ireland in Australia, was winning the European Cup with her club, Harlequins, Kohler says.

Another milestone for the Cork ace was reaching 100 caps for Ireland, which she did in March 2000, and, in the three seasons with UCC, winning the intervarsity title in Cork, in 1996. Those were highlights of her illustrious career.

But even a player who has been as successful as Kohler has had her disappointments.

“I was very down when we lost on the golden goal to China in the Pre-Olympic Games, at Milton Keynes, in 2000,” she says.

“We were also 35 minutes away from qualifying for the Sydney Olympics, after losing 2-0 to Spain.

“The other, two major setbacks were missing the tour to America, in 1996, to illness, and an injury I got that required nine stitches in my face wasn’t a good experience,” Kohler says.

“Having said all that, hockey has been very good to me and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

The stronger nations in European hockey are Holland, Germany, and England, but Kohler says that the standard is improving in this country all the time.

“I believe the 19- and 20-year-olds of today are much more advanced than I was at their age,” she says.

The standard in Europe is higher because they have a professional approach to training and strategy and are better-resourced.

“All the Irish players have nine to five jobs and have to go training afterwards, but I was fortunate with my employers, who have been so understanding when I had to travel for games and tournaments,” Kohler says.

The year 2003 also stands out in Kohler’s memory, as it was a huge disappointment when Harlequins lost 3-2 to Loretto, of Dublin, in the Irish Senior Women’s Cup final. The Cork side underachieved in that game. 

“We were gutted, but sometimes, in life, you have to stand up and admit the best team won on the day,” Kohler says.

Rachael Kohler in action for Harlequins ladies’ senior team, against Railway Union, in 2016. Inset, Kohler playing for Ireland, against Ukraine.
Rachael Kohler in action for Harlequins ladies’ senior team, against Railway Union, in 2016. Inset, Kohler playing for Ireland, against Ukraine.

Her mum, Claire, is from Schull, in West Cork, and her father, Ian, is from Surrey, in England, but is of German extraction.

“My mother and father have always been there for me, as well as my brother, Mark, and sister, Jessica, as we are a very united family and that’s always nice, when you feel the need to talk to somebody,” Kohler says.

In a sport that has had many great players over the years, Rachael Kohler will be remembered as one of the greatest that this country has ever produced.

FACTFILE:

Rachael Kohler was once the most capped player in Irish Women’s Hockey, with a total of 166 caps.

She played with Ireland in the 1994 and 2002 World Cups.

Kohler won countless Munster Leagues and Cups with Harlequins and also captained them to an Irish Women’s Cup title in 2000.

Rachael was a member of the UCC side that won the Inter-varsity in Cork in 1996.

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