I’m back! Back on the international hockey scene after 17 months out of the game and back blogging.
When asked to write a piece on England’s recent EuroHockey Championships campaign, I was slightly reluctant at first. On paper, it was our worst European showing in more than a decade. You have to go back to 2003 as being the last time England’s women finished outside the medals at the event; until now.
I’m personally still very much hurting from the tournament. To finish fourth, outside of the medals, hurts; the way we performed hurts and the semi-final result really hurts. The scars from our 8-0 defeat at the hands of the Dutch run really deep and will be etched in my memory for a long time. I’ve not watched the game back but I will. I will because it will help the recovery process. I will because I don’t shy away from uncomfortable things. I will because I want to learn. I will because I want to ensure it never, ever happens again.
Going into the tournament, a victory for England would have ensured a place at next year’s Olympics for Great Britain’s women. That was our aim. It didn’t happen so the focus now switches to regrouping as a GB squad and qualifying through a two-legged Olympic Qualifier.
The draw for the event took place last month, with Chile selected as our opponents, a team I’ve never played against in my six years as an international hockey player. We will face off in two matches over two days in London on 2-3 November, with the aggregate score totalled up and the winner taking it all – Olympic qualification.
There is no opportunity for an off day, no opportunity to qualify through a different route. This is it, crunch time. We win the series, we qualify. We lose, we don’t qualify. Simple.
As Tokyo draws closer, I’m finding myself having more frequent conversations with friends and family members about the Olympics. Unfortunately winning gold at Rio 2016 doesn't automatically qualify you for Tokyo 2020.
The conversations are often long and quite confusing, leading me to think that the whole qualifying process is unnecessarily complicated for both hockey and non-hockey fans. It requires some teams to wrack up a serious amount of air miles and is not consistent across continents. For a team like Spain to qualify, they had to win the Euros, overcoming six of the world’s top ten teams. Conversely, New Zealand secured their place by winning a three-game series against Australia. I hope it’s a process that’s amended by our governing body, the FIH, before Paris 2024.
The countdown is on and training has begun. A gruelling first week of fitness testing is out the way and it’s now about knuckling down as a team to ensure we are in the best shape, physically and mentally, come that first game on 2 November.
Some good and honest conversations between the whole squad and staff have been had and actions put in place. A clear and structured training plan has been implemented to improve the areas of our game that fell short as both GB during the FIH Pro League and as England at the Euros, whilst we will also continue to build on our strengths.
This Olympic qualification process means we are all entering an unknown that is exciting, nerve-wracking and pressurised. Never has a place on the pinnacle of our sport rested on two matches in 24 hours and it’s time to show up. Come the first weekend of November, we will be ready. And we hope so see many of you there cheering us on!