CHLOE Watkins hopes two painful near misses in her Olympic pursuit can be harnassed to propel her and the Irish women’s team to finally end their long wait and land a ticket to Tokyo 2020.
The Monkstown woman has been part of the national side for almost a decade. It has encompassed a final qualifier loss in 2012 at the hands of Belgium and, in 2016, by the width of a post against China for a place in Rio.
Now, the World Cup silver medalists are one big weekend away from reaching Tokyo. Canada are the opposition on November 2 and 3 in Dublin, two head to head matches with the best aggregate earning that Olympic spot.
“We have turned that into motivation,” Watkins told the Dublin Gazette at the qualifiers draw this week. “There certainly were scars. It took us the guts of a year to get back to reality [after the China game].
“Now, it’s just a motivating factor. People have been in the squad for 10 years. It’s something we’re all working towards, something we’ve always wanted to achieve. And this is our chance. When you’re with a group like this, you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get again. We have to make the most of them.”
Indeed, this is the most direct route Ireland have had in the Olympic pursuit. While previous editions have been via lengthy tournament formats, this is a straight showdown.
Ireland’s heroics in London last year mean they have won the hosting rights and the draw has pitted them against the lowest ranked opponent on offer – Canada are 15th in the world compared to Ireland in eighth.
“Canada have improved a lot over the last few years,” Watkins adds, saying she is taking nothing for granted. “They’ve got a good programme and been based more in Europe. We know they’re a good team and we’ve had a few mixed results, like before the World Cup last summer we lost to them and then we beat them.
“Overall, we’re going in the right direction with our team and we’re certainly feeling strong coming into the next few months.
“We made history at the World Cup and the Olympics has been the one we’ve always chased. We’ve never qualified for an Olympics so for us, first and foremost, is our target and goal. It’s driving this group at the moment.
“I suppose every time we go out there we want to try and perform. But we do know we have a special group of players in place. The sky is the limit now .”