A while back I wrote a blog about my experience joining a new sport as an adult. You can check it out HERE.
The general theme was that sport doesn’t have to die for grown ups and access to sport is open if you just ask. I am writing this piece after one of the most satisfying, heart breaking and motivating weekends I have had in a long time. I am writing this piece because I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to experience these emotions at the hands of sport long after I thought my competitive sporting days were behind me.
You see, when I returned to hockey back in 2013 I was just so happy to be playing and to be part of a team after resigning myself to sport-less adulthood and the gym. But after a while my competitive nature kicked in and I got to work and did what I could to improve. With no particular goal in mind, other than the enjoyment of development and playing in higher divisions, I did my training, played my matches and worked on getting fitter. Every coach I knew has pretty much been asked (and kindly obliged) to take extra sessions with me so I can get better and frankly nobody is safe in the future!
I love playing. I love getting better but let’s get something very clear..
Hockey is my outlet, hockey is my sanity.
So this March, the opportunity came around to play with the Munster Junior squad for the interprovincial tournament in Belfast May 6th-7th and I could have died with excitement. As a teenager when a chance like this came up I would be cool and act like it wasn’t a big deal, I know better now and was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm. But, I have responsibilities. I run a business so there is no such thing as a day off. I cannot fill in a form and tell someone I won’t be in on that day. If this chance to play had come around when I was younger I would have weighed it up for myself and decided if I wanted to do it. When the chance came now to play I had to rearrange my entire diary in order to be able to fly back to Ireland (I wasn’t even in the right country!!) to trial. I had to ask my sister what she thought and we both had to agree on how we would run the business while I was doing this. I was supposed to be in the UK – we plan our time a year in advance! If she had said you can’t do it, then there is no way I would have done it but equally we always do what we can to make life outside Queen B work…it doesn’t always happen for us but on this occasion we pulled it off. We both agreed that it was something I had to do and we have gotten pretty nifty at getting the work done in all kinds of situations….so off to trials I flew.
When I made the team I felt pretty chuffed but nothing prepared me for how I would feel in the weeks after selection. I was driven to improve and upped my training. I took every opportunity to stand in the goal and get as many balls whacked at me as was humanly possible. But the doubt over my head was crushing me. After a bit of a medication situation in December twinned with a tendency to stress eat (Not ideal when you work for yourself), I had gained weight. Enough to slow me down. I also am relatively new to hockey. So I couldn’t shake the doubt in my mind about whether I deserved this.
I wasn’t myself in training. A cloud hung over my head but by the time we got to Belfast I felt better. I had done all I could but I still wasn’t 100% confident. I still didn’t think I deserved this. I played in the first game and I played well. But in the final game I didn’t. I played like absolute shit and we lost. If we won this game we would have won the tournament. I still haven’t shaken the disappointment.
But it was in the car on the way home when I got a little perspective. I didn’t start playing hockey to make provincial teams and if you told me three years ago I would, I would have laughed at you. As an adult I feel it is a rare event to go away with a gang of incredible women and coaches/mangers/physios and have team talks in hotel rooms. To complain about the awful food at the team dinner and wonder if the meat is pork, chicken or turkey. To take the mick out of each other when someone takes a sneaky snapchat of you with your head in the shape of a foot. To drive through sunny Belfast after beating the winners in their back garden with the speakers pumping and your Captain saying ‘What would we do without sport?’. For me it felt rare, to not just make a Munster team but to come within a game of winning the whole thing makes me proud and a little emotional.
I played a random league game this year and one of my team mates told me that one of the opposition said something along the lines of ‘that keeper is too old to be here.’ Now I know a 16 year old girl will of course consider me ancient but that stung me hard. It also made me very defiant. Sport has no place for ageism and when I think what playing hockey has brought to my life, it makes me angry that there might be people out there wanting to do something but think they’re too old. You are never too old.
I’m taking a lot away from Belfast. A bunch of new friends from all over Munster who laughed at my crap jokes, fought like women possessed at the tournament and never held me responsible for a single conceded goal. The experience of working with an incredible coach, captain and managers who in a short space of time took women from lots of different clubs and levels and made a solid team out of us was very special to witness and be part of. Thanks to them we only needed to think about the task at hand and I know the entire team back me when I sincerely thank Coach Eric, Captain Hilary and Managers Lisa and John.
Personally, I have work to do. I need to keep plugging away at my training and take my diet a little more seriously. I have proved that I am handy enough as a keeper, I now need to believe it. I have a goal for the next 12 months to get better and fitter, and there is nothing more relaxing than having something outside of work that can hold your attention and force you to switch off for a few hours. It calms me down and no amount of stress can get through when I am watching that ball come at me.
One of the most important things I have learned from this experience is where Queen B is at. I was snapchatting about the tournament and the amount messages of support that came in from the Queen B’s was amazing. I had messages of support from people on the Irish hockey team and EYHL players. Olympic medallists were taking an interest in our tournament in the same way we took an interest in their campaigns in Rio!
No matter where we were on the road to Stormont I felt the energy from a crowd of Queen Bs cheering for us. Many of the snapchats were sent from a room on my own but I was never alone.
And to my fellow Munster keeper Lorna. How cool it is to be part of a little group of crazy people? People who love having rock hard hockey balls fly at them is a connection that few share!
So here’s to the future of hockey for me. I think I will play until someone in medical authority forbids me from it. I hope to play in division 1 and 2 this season (If work allows me to stay in one place long enough) and if one adult reading this takes up a new sport because of this post I will drop my microphone and do an unflattering dance around the office.
P.S. Thank you Aedin for editing this. It wouldn’t have made much sense without you!
Photography John Meyler
The Legends who sponsored me for the tournament: