'Time away has made me love it again': GB women's hockey team revel in return to training

Molly McElwee
The Telegraph
Susannah Townsend, pictured playing for England during last year's European Championships - AP
Susannah Townsend, pictured playing for England during last year's European Championships - AP

Great Britain’s women’s hockey team returned to training on Tuesday, after a four-month absence due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Players’ were subjected to symptom and temperature checks upon arrival at the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre for the first time since February, and the squad divided into two groups for separate sessions. 

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On the pitch, players were put in ‘bubbles’ of three, rotated across three different drill stations with coaches and were not allowed to touch any equipment except with their sticks.

Members of the squad, who were set to defend their Olympic title at the Tokyo Games in August before it was rescheduled for 2021, told Telegraph Sport they were relishing the opportunity to get back on the pitch despite new social distancing measures limiting their training.

“It is exciting to be back in the kit, that was a big one for me today, trying to find all my kit again,” 2016 gold medallist Shona McCallin joked. “It was a bit like the first day of school.”

On a more serious note, Susannah Townsend said the break had done the team some good in terms of mindset.

Last year they achieved comparably poor results compared to their usual form, with only five wins from 16, while they were able to play just three matches before the season was put on hold in February. 

The constant grind of the Olympic cycle was weighing heavily for some: “I was driving on my way [to training] and I was all excited. I haven't been excited about hockey in a while actually, or for the last six months, and speaking to the girls everyone felt the same," Townsend said. "We were pushing, pushing, pushing to peak in Tokyo and the time away, it's like anything, you don't have something and you miss it - it makes the heart grow fonder.”

“You put everything in the whole Olympic cycle but the closer you get the more nerves come through, selection, everyone's scared of injuries. And as disappointed as everyone was that it was postponed, at the same time it's given us an extra year to make sure we do as good as possible. 

Townsend says she thinks their chances of success at Tokyo are higher now they have gained more time: "We would have been okay in August, but I think we'll definitely have a better chance next August and I don't mind saying that at all. Time is only a blessing to us. This time away has made me love it again.”

McCallin agrees and says despite the return to action on the pitch and the team now having their provisional training schedule for the next 12 months laid out, the focus is on well-being and not a high-pressure countdown to Tokyo.

“In the news recently you see how quickly things can change, with Leicester going back into lockdown, so in that sense I don't look too far in advance, just taking it week by week because of the fluid climate we're in,” McCallin said. “I think as a team, cliche as it sounds, we have to take it step by step and ease our way back into it.”

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