Roisin Upton wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of qualifying Ireland women’s hockey for their first-ever Olympic Games – not even a broken wrist, writes Muireann Duffy.
Ireland women made history after overcoming Canada earlier this month to seal their place at an Olympics for the first time ever, Upton scoring the decisive penalty in sudden death despite not being able to properly grip her stick, or even open a bag for a drugs test after the game.
When it comes to Olympic qualifiers – the score can haunt you for years. That’s a feeling Upton knows all too well after Ireland’s route to Rio ended in shoot-out heartbreak to China back in 2015.
In comparison, the pain in her wrist was nothing. Upton was out to make history and according to the Limerick hero, Tokyo is just the beginning.
“You give up so much of your life and it’s all for this one moment, this one occasion and getting to the Olympic Games so that’s all that’s running through my head,” she said.
“It’s eight seconds and you’re just looking to back yourself and try not to let the occasion and the crowd take over and stay as focused as you can.”
“Even though it’s something we’ve never done, qualifying was still only a stepping-stone to where we want to be.
“Where we want to be is medalling at the Olympics. That is the pinnacle and I suppose all athletes would agree that nobody’s happy just to be involved, everybody wants to win, so this is no different.
“We need to improve, and we need to take more opportunities, but we’ll embrace it. It’s exactly where we wanted to be.”
— Róisín (@roisinupton) November 4, 2019
Ireland women’s first Olympic qualification couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team have played a vital role in the 20x20 movement within the country aimed at increasing participation and visibility of girls and women in sport.
Ever since winning silver at the 2018 World Cup, Ireland women’s hockey team have become a leading light in the movement, championing women’s sport at the same time as holding down part-time jobs and degrees.
Upton, who recently graduated with a master’s from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, says the support they receive in recognition for their commitment will spur them on to Tokyo and beyond.
“I think there was probably a notion there before [20x20] that people didn’t care about women’s sport, but I think at the World Cup last year, when women’s sport was on television, people were watching.
“I think the public appreciate the sacrifices that we’re making. What was really special for us was, given the absolutely atrocious weather [for the Canada game], we still had over 6,000 people at our game.
“It would have been the easiest thing in the world to sit at home and watch it on the television, but people still came out.”
“This past year has been huge for women in sport and it’s only been getting bigger and bigger. We’re in no way competing with male sports, but we’re on the rise and it’s fantastic.”