BBC NI’s Sport Re-Run to document Ireland’s hockey fairytale which may not be finished – BBC Sport


Ireland’s women celebrate with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after clinching an Olympic Games spot last November

The journey of the Ireland women’s hockey team is what sporting fairytales are all about.

From the devastation of losing a shootout to China and missing out on the 2016 Rio Olympics to the remarkable World Cup campaign that ended with a silver medal.

If that wasn’t enough there was the drama as their story came full circle last November when in another shootout they beat Canada to qualify for the Olympics for the first time.

All of those moments are captured in BBC Sport Northern Ireland’s Sport Re-run series on Sunday 7 June at 20:15 BST on BBC2 NI in a programme that includes a new 50-minute version of the documentary Ireland’s Hockey Journey: Live Like Legends where the players and coaches tell you their incredible story.

Of course their historic debut in Tokyo will have to wait another year because of the Covid-19 pandemic which has given the opportunity for the squad to reflect on what they have achieved so far.

“It’s been such a special journey for this group of players and for our little sport across the island of Ireland,” explains Ireland captain Katie Mullan.

“I suppose not qualifying for Rio was heartbreaking. But I think that challenge is what kind of built us up to achieve what we did at the World Cup in 2018 and then go on and back it up with qualification for Tokyo last November.”

Sport Re-Run: Watch Irish hockey heroics in Live Like Legends

Olympics on hold until 2021

2020 was to have been the most special year but since the beginning of March the tight knit group have been forced apart and to train alone in lockdown and try and come to terms with the postponement of the Olympics for twelve months.

“I think initially it was something we hadn’t expected. I suppose when you qualify for your first Games you don’t anticipate a pandemic to come along and postpone them for a year,” adds the Ireland skipper.

“But we have to look at it as another year to close the gap between ourselves and the top teams in the world. We’re sitting eighth in the world now and it gives us 12 months to really push on and make sure that we make the impact that we can next summer.”

That’s if the Olympic Games can still go ahead in July 2021. With so much uncertainty about the future and whether medical treatment or a vaccine will be available to control Coronavirus there is still the prospect that the dreams for this squad could be cruelly shattered.

“I suppose it’s definitely crossed our minds,” admits Mullan.

“But we have to trust in the system. It’s not something that we can prepare for and all we can do is go day by day and do the training that we need to do to ensure that we are best prepared.”

The captain isn’t worried about the momentum the squad has built up over the past few years being halted because of the current global situation.

Mullan has captained Ireland to a World Cup final and Olympic qualification

“I’m not actually, because the the thing about our group is prior to the World Cup and our acceleration onto the world stage we had years and years of under-funded programmes where we weren’t able to train together that often.

“We were very much self driven. A lot of our training sessions you would’ve had to complete by yourself and then when we came together we were ready. So I think years and years of that kind of training and preparation will actually really stand by us through the Coronavirus outbreak because we’re well used to having to get out and do a gruelling fitness session by yourself.”

And so for the moment the squad can take a moment to enjoy and relive the success they’ve achieved and what it means to the sport of hockey in Ireland

“It’s been incredible. The day after the World Cup final when we flew home to the reception in Dublin and there was 8,000 there just to see us. The sport had transformed over that two-week period.

“A couple of years ago we sat together in January and we said we wanted to leave a legacy in our sport, but it’s very hard to know exactly how that looks and how you are going to achieve that and looking back now at the World Cup, a legacy is something that we have created.

‘We will target an Olympic medal’

“There are so many more young kids playing the sport and we have to be incredibly proud of that.

“But we have to now make sure that we stay there and Ireland stays in the top ten in the world and we push on to strive for even more.”

So what more could this group of talented hockey players achieve? Well, what about an Olympic medal as a final chapter to this story.

“I’m sure you’ll agree that what you know about this group is that we’re incredibly ambitious.

“I think we would be silly not to have an Olympic medal as a target for us next summer and especially now as we have all this time to prepare the best for that. As we know it’s tournament hockey and anything can happen.”

And then who knows, Ireland’s Hockey Journey : Live Like Legends may need to be re-edited one more time.

Sunday’s Sport Re-Run programme will be available on the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website from Monday while the 2015 Men’s EuroHockey 3/4 place game between Ireland and England will be also be available on the BBC iPlayer

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