Fierce loyalty of Irish senior women's hockey team doesn’t end on the pitch

Pictured is Anna O'Flanagan Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

When the Irish senior women’s hockey team play it’s like watching a well choreographed, free-flowing dance.

And they will be relying on their ability to flow together as a coordinated unit to qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“We’d do anything for each other,” says team member Anna O’Flanagan.

“It’s difficult to succeed without that. You have to be willing to go the extra mile for the person beside you.”

The fierce loyalty doesn’t end on the pitch.

“You could call any of our teammates at any time and ask for help with anything. It means when you get on the pitch you are really true friends.

We see each other more than our families, so we’ve created another family,” says the 29-year-old solicitor, who has recently moved back to Dublin from club Pinoké in Amsterdam to train with the Irish team.

Riding high on their history-making silver medal performance at last year’s World Cup, their next target is to qualify for 2020.

“It’s not just the international tournament in June, we also have another European championship in August and the final Olympic qualifier in October/November. The next six months determines whether we qualify. We definitely have high hopes — we are really excited.”

The team’s amateur status is an ongoing “struggle”. But the timing of a new bursary from Park Development couldn’t be better.

“Without that funding, it would be hard to train during the week because everyone has to do their full-time job or study. It will help us to be together more as a team.”

What shape are you in?

I try my best. During the week I do four hockey sessions a week for at least 90 minutes — some are two hours.

I also do three gym sessions a week — 60-80 minutes long — it’s mostly strength-based work.

Then I would do additional conditioning sessions. A couple of times a week, for 30- 45 minutes, I’d do some running or maybe get on the bike depending on my load.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

It’s not just about having one specific diet, it’s about having a balanced diet that you change according to your training schedule.

We get support from Sport Ireland and the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland, which provide us with nutrition advice.

On a match day, it’s about feeling good — it’s not about chasing calories. You’re more focused on your carb intake because that’s what provides you with the most energy.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

A bag of crisps — I like salty things — and, of course, a nice glass of red wine is always nice at the end of a very busy week.

What would keep you awake at night?

When you’re involved high-performance sport there are a lot of stresses in your life, especially when you are trying to balance it between your working and social life.

Definitely, you will get stressed at times and sleeping isn’t always easy but it is so important for our recovery as athletes.

I have to work hard at getting the right amount of sleep. I would aim for eight hours.

How do you relax?

I love meeting up with my friends outside of hockey. Also, I like to read books, listen to podcasts or do some yoga and chill out.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Tennis player Serena Williams; former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, it would be interesting to hear about his leadership style, how he coaches teams and gets the best out of them; and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

What’s your favourite smell?

I quite like lavender — I’d use it as an oil, sprinkling a little on my pillow. And I love YSL’s Black Opium.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

Pictured is (L-R) Anna O'Flanagan, assistant coach Gareth Grundie, Ayeisha McFerran, head coach Sean Dancer and Roisin Upton Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.
Pictured is (L-R) Anna O'Flanagan, assistant coach Gareth Grundie, Ayeisha McFerran, head coach Sean Dancer and Roisin Upton Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

I struggle sometimes getting jeans to fit me because as an athlete I have a few muscles on my legs.

I hope it transpires that I have skinner legs when I retire from hockey. The trend is changing to mum jeans, so that’s helping me out a little bit.

What traits do you least like in others?

Selfishness. I think we can all help each other and we can learn a lot from other people.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist - sometimes I drive myself mad and probably other people mad too trying to get things right.

Do you pray?

No. But I would have said prayers back in the day.

What would cheer up your day?

Just having a laugh. I like to be around people — I like to have a bit of fun.

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