IN THE PAPER

Only way is “Up” for hockey star

Photo by Craig Mercer/Sportsfile

Having played a huge role in the success of the Irish women’s hockey team over the summer, life as a World Cup silver medallist has become whole a lot busier to say the least for Limerick’s Roisín Upton.

Four months have passed since the country watched on from the edge of their seats with bated breath when the girls stormed into the World Cup final in London, exceeding all expectations – even their own.

“We went over there and nobody even realised there was a World Cup on,” she began. “We had exceeded our own expectations and we had qualified for the quarter-final. That was super because we never even imagined getting passed that and that’s when RTÉ picked it up which was fantastic.

“It’s still so hard to believe in so many ways and I find myself every week saying to myself; I really need to find time to just sit down and re-watch RTÉ and watch the matches and watch what the people at home saw,” she added.

The support the team received from the people of Ireland went from one extreme to the next when they qualified for the quarter-finals with a game to spare in the group stages following victories over the USA and India.

Although the World Cup games were the key focus for Upton, someone at home was never far from her mind and a laugh came over the midfielder as she reminisced: “My initial thought was ‘okay my Nana can definitely watch it on her own TV as opposed to streaming it now.”

A mass wave of support had the potential to put more pressure on the girls but they kept their heads down and continued to focus on the challenge in front of them.

“We were in a bubble and we were really focused so we just kept trying to concentrate and doing the same things which was just being relaxed,” the Catholic Institute player said.

Photo: Limerick Leader

“We were so relaxed because we went there [ranked] 15th, so in each match the stakes were getting higher, but for us they kind of weren’t because we were thinking ‘oh this is just another expectation we’ve exceeded’ so we kind of took the pressure off ourselves in that sense,” she added.

The life of an athlete can be extremely busy and if you want to make it to the top, striking the right balance between work, college and a social life is important.

Currently studying for her Masters in education in Mary Immaculate College, Upton gave an insight into the work that goes into sporting the Irish crest.

“It’s a lot of commitment,” the 24-year old explained. “I think when you decide that this is what you want to do it definitely has to take a central role in your life. So it would mean two gym sessions a week at 6am before you have college from 9am-6pm.

“Then you’d have two training sessions with your club, you might be doing two runs, you might be doing an evening session and at the moment we’re up in Dublin every Sunday training.”

Having only picked up hockey when she began secondary school, Róisín insisted her dad has had a big impact on her sporting career and, alongside her two older brothers, she was always encouraged to pick up a sport no matter what it was.

Following a busy few months visiting schools, speaking to young players and attending different events, the hockey legend is aware that with the spotlight comes the role of setting an example for younger players.

“I’ve always been more of a do-er than a talker so instead of just talking about what I’m going to do in either college or hockey, I just do it and my actions speak louder.

“I love people to think that I’m available for a chat or if anybody wants advice or just wants to go out for a hit around, I’ll always just encourage any of the local girls to do anything like that and if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

The future for Irish hockey is bright with more and more people getting involved in the game and new clubs being set up nationwide.

With the World Cup now a thing of the past, Upton and her teammates have a new goal in mind, a goal they hope will lead them to Tokyo.

“So, next year it is all eyes on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Our ranking jumped up to eighth in the world so we have as good as secured a home draw for the first qualifying tournament. Then in the middle of that you have the European championship, so it’s just as busy but it’s definitely all eyes on Olympic qualification.

“We hope the future for us is bright but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We have to back it up and I think teams aren’t going to underestimate us anymore,” she added.

While currently focusing on finishing her Masters in Education having done her postgrad in America, the big aim for Upton is to play abroad in the future.

“I’ve always dreamed of going abroad and playing. Five of the girls have managed it this year with the way their lives have fallen together so I’m looking forward to joining them next September.”

For now though, Upton is focused on the next couple of months, heading to Dublin for training and to teach.

Hockey is on the rise in Ireland and with heroines like Róisín Upton lining out in green, there’s sure to be plenty to cheer about.

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