Watkins savours surreal Olympic ticket

by Stephen Findlater

Chloe Watkins admitted “flashbacks of 2015 were coming into my head” as she stepped up for her vital shoot-out to keep Ireland’s Olympic hopes alive last Sunday evening at Energia Park.

That most painful of memories, the one that denied a place at Rio 2016, were flooding back to when the Monkstown woman was involved in a heart-breaking shoot-out loss to China, the width of a post denying them a place in Rio.

On Sunday, in front of 6,137 fans at Energia Park in Donnybrook, trailing 3-2 with the final effort against Canada, a miss would have seen the dream die once more.

But she held her nerve – as she did last summer against India in the World Cup semi-final – twisting and turning to bamboozle Kaitlyn Williams to keep the tie going.

“I had to try to block out everything and what was at stake, think about just what I had to do,” she gasped. “There was no way we were going to leave it out there again. The game was tighter than we thought. Things never play out as you plan but we had so much heart, so much belief in ourselves and weren’t going to give up this again.”

Two minutes later, she was storming toward Ayeisha McFerran to celebrate and while a video review delayed things, the Tokyo ticket was assured.

It followed a weekend of high drama in front of two big crowds but little by way of goalscoring opportunity across two 0-0 draws in the two-legged encounter.

“We didn’t anticipate two scoreless draws, that’s for sure,” Watkins continued.

“We had talked about shoot-outs and we had to cover all bases. Thankfully Ayeisha [McFerran] was making saves and the girls were scoring.

“You really learn from those tough experiences. We weren’t going to leave it out there.

“When you say we are going to an Olympics, it’s not even real. It’s completely surreal. We’re just over the moon, a dream come true and we now want to go for that medal in Tokyo.”

Her sentiment was backed up by long-time Hermes, UCD and Monkstown club mate Anna O’Flanagan – now with Muckross – who said it was another formative moment for the sport in Ireland.

“It’s amazing that we have changed the game in Ireland, not only for hockey but setting records for Irish women’s sport in general and that’s what we want to do.

“We have to thank every single person for coming along, especially on Saturday.

“It was absolutely miserable and they kept singing. They stuck with us and brought us through and so we have to thank every single one of them.

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