Ireland hockey captain Katie Mullan explains how it feels to have led her country's first ever women's team to an Olympic Games
No women's team in Ireland has ever qualified for an Olympic Games... until now.
And that makes hockey captain Katie Mullan not only a history maker, but one of the proudest sportswomen in her country.
Her team underwent an intense two-legged tie earlier this month against Canada in front of 6,000 fans in Donnybrook in order to earn their spot at Tokyo 2020.
After both matches ended goalless, it went to a penalty shoot-out and despite going 3-1 down the plucky Irish fought back to win 4-3 and thus qualify.
Now, speaking exclusively to NewsChain, Mullan said: “There was a bit of disbelief initially because it is something we have chased for so long. So there was a bit of shock when it happened, especially when we had been 3-1 in the shoot-out.
“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to be the first team to qualify, it's a privilege to have the opportunity to wear a green jersey to represent your country.
“We have put years and years of hard work and disappointment in - both my career and for long before my career - for hockey players in Ireland.
“It’s a huge amount of pride and I suppose it's also a recognition. Every single one of us has made sacrifices, girls have put off careers and have changed careers. We have all taken completely different paths in life and I think we always knew, three to four years ago, that there was something that is worth fighting for.
“There is a massive sense of satisfaction that what you kind of knew was possible in your head, you went out and did it.”
Last year Ireland entered the 2018 World Cup in London as the second lowest-ranked team having not been in the tournament for 16 years. But they pulled off a minor miracle by winning the silver medal.
Mullan said: “We had no pressure, no expectation and we were all just so excited to be at a major tournament.
“We have slipped under the radar a lot in the past whereas since the World Cup everyone takes us more seriously, everyone knows our game plan, everyone knows our players and so we have to play slightly different plays to mix things up.
“It has been a challenge for us to add a few more strings to us but I think we have done that.”
As a result, the Irish supporters and the players themselves were putting them under a lot of pressure ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
“We definitely did feel the pressure. There is a certain degree of pressure which we put on ourselves because we wanted it so much," said the captain.
“Three to four months ago we tried to create pressure where we could in order to help us develop strategies with coping.
“It’s very hard to replicate what it’s like in a packed out stadium which you are not used to playing in and of course you don’t want to let people down. But you have to flip the mindset and we talk about this a lot. At the end of the day pressure is something you have created in your imagination.”
Now the squad is officially on the road to Tokyo, captain Mullan faces her biggest challenge to date.
“For me personally, you can give it all the lip service in the world but the best captains are those who lead by example, so every time you step on the pitch you try to lead by example with your actions,” she said.
“I want to be the hardest working player on the pitch no matter what. I want to train hard and show good habits because it’s very difficult to leave if you’re not practising what you preach.
“We have a lot of belief in ourselves and I think we have proved in the past that we can do things, special things so we want to really perform and do something special again.
“I am so proud to be apart of this group and whatever happens in the future, no one can take it away from us for what we’ve already achieved.”
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