AS her left wrist swelled and began to pulsate, Raheen native Róisín Upton only had three minutes to mentally recover from missing her penalty shoot-out attempt.
Now in sudden death, Upton’s eyes fixated on the Canadian keeper Kaitlyn Williams, no amount of metal bars from her helmet can shield the veteran Canuck from the daggers the Limerick woman stared into her.
When the referee’s whistle blew, the twenty-five year old pushed the ball twice and dribbled on the sapphire turf; she drifted to the left her with her back facing the red wall quickly encroaching upon her.
As the Mary Immaculate College graduate dribbled closer to the goal, Róisín took one last turn for the goal, and a nailless nation holds their breath.
“It’s funny when you grow up you dream of medalling at a World Cup and medalling for an Olympics and for that to come true and nobody else has ever done that before, it’s very surreal,” Upton reminisced.
“I’ve been playing since I was six years old and throughout my teens, I never got to see an Irish team qualifying for the Olympics it’s so surreal – it really is a dream come true for me and the girls.
“It’s a testament of what hard work and the incredible support from my family, friends, coaches can achieve,” she commended.
Despite fracturing her left wrist earlier in the match and enduring over an hour of intense hockey, Upton took a calculated swing, fueled by pure adrenaline for a shot at history and redemption.
“I didn’t have too much time to process it, to be honest, after I missed my chance and going 3-1 down, all the girls and my goalkeeper all stepped up, and it was just my time to step up then,” she recalled.
With Upton’s shot ricocheting off the metal frame of the goal and into the net, she rejoined her celebrating teammates to witness legendary keeper Ayeisha McFerran delaying Canadian Amanda Woodcroft just long enough for Ireland’s Olympic dream to be realised.
A fortnight after that unforgettable evening in Donnybrook, the young Shannonsider now bears a crimson cast on her left hand, yet her determination shows no sign of fading.
“I took a couple of knocks and falls during the match and I didn’t think too much of it I thought it was only going to be a bruise, the doctor said it was a fracture,” Upton explained.
A physical and mental toughness that can only found in Limerick city, raised in Raheen by her parents Dermot and Pauline, with two older rugby-mad brothers Diarmaid and Sean, sport was an inescapable yet welcome part of Upton’s life.
“It takes a village to get somebody to where they want to be, and I’m so lucky to have had so many fantastic coaches and people that have impacted me in so many ways.”
From playing GAA for St Paul’s and soccer for Janesboro, Upton found her calling in field hockey and picked up an impressive hall of medals.
With humble beginnings at her beloved Catholic Institute to her secondary school Crescent College Comprehensive and eventually her American excursion to the University of Connecticut Huskies, Róisín‘s young career has been shrouded in excellence.
Upton will have plenty of time to give thanks to her Dooradoyle secondary school as she recovers for an arduous and exciting journey ahead, the Catholic Institute player will pay a visit to “Comp” where she will umpire and train students of her secondary school, where she may meet future Olympians of Irish hockey.
“Our schedule is pretty intense, so when I have downtime I try to catch up with friends and family and maybe head to Spanish Point in County Clare and go for a swim, and I hope to do a bit of coaching and umpiring down in Crescent Comp,” Upton detailed.
“It’s so important for all boys and girls growing up to play for any sport, and for me I’m just a normal girl from Limerick and if I can achieve what I’ve achieved then anyone can,” she urged.
On top of her domestic and collegiate achievements, Upton and her teammates captured the hearts of the nation and the hockey world by reaching the FIH 2018 Hockey World Cup final.
Despite a heartbreaking defeat to eight-time champions, the Netherlands, the squad have inspired a young generation of future hockey stars to take up the stick and follow their idols’ footsteps much like Róisín herself.
“It’s been fantastic, growing up there were so many idols I’ve played alongside, like Eimear Cregan and Elaine Bronson who have been knocking on the door for us and created that pathway and I’m so lucky to be part of this team that broke through,” Upton commended.
As a GOAL ambassador, Upton, accompanied by former national rugby captain Jenny Murphy and Dublin Football captain Sinead Aherne visited the southeastern African nation of Malawi in late November.
GOAL is an international aid organisation working with nearly sixty of the most vulnerable countries in the world to help provide emergency relief, essential healthcare, nutrition education and developing sustainable livelihoods.
On her role as an ambassador, Upton explained, “the work that GOAL do is incredible. They do a lot of educational work and we got a sense of what it means to be a global citizen and the issues that are going on outside of Ireland, and we want to spread the word back home.”
While a trip to Tokyo in 2020 is secured for the Irish hockey squad, the midfielder isn’t letting herself get caught in Olympic fantasies until the summer.
For the next eight months, the twenty-five year old will fight for her place in the squad despite her impact on Irish hockey and women’s sport.
Upton emphasised, “Well, I’m not an Olympian yet, not until I actually make it through the Olympic Games when the team’s named in July – there’s plenty to play for.”
Limerick Voice 2019 newspaper is available today in all copies of the Limerick Leader.