Belfast Telegraph

Making the Olympics a dream come true for Zoe

Glory days: Ireland’s Zoe Wilson and Roisin Upton celebrate the moment they qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Glory days: Ireland’s Zoe Wilson and Roisin Upton celebrate the moment they qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By John Flack

Zoe Wilson felt the pain from over 1,000 miles away when Ireland missed out on qualification for Rio 2016 in agonising fashion in Valencia but now she is ecstatic at the prospect of fulfilling a lifetime ambition and competing at an Olympic Games for the first time.

On that occasion, the 22-year-old Antrim woman could only helplessly watch the drama unfold on a television screen as she had yet to play for her country at senior level.

But it wasn't long before she answered Ireland's call and now she's looking forward to Tokyo 2020, having been ever-present in the squad since she was a teenager.

Wilson, like the rest of the players, celebrated wildly when the dramatic play-off against Canada was finally over on Sunday, knowing the heartache that the bulk of their team-mates had gone through four years earlier.​

"I was at home watching the game on my laptop along with my mother and, even at that stage, and not being in the squad, playing for Ireland had been my ambition," Wilson recalled.​

​Ironically, it was in Valencia just a few months after the qualifier that the Irish players returned to the scene of the crime for a training camp as the bitter memories came flooding back.

Wilson, then just 18, was among the newcomers. Fast forward four years and the defender has amassed 105 caps.

Even seven months after the penalty heartache of Valencia, emotions were still raw among the players who were still in the squad, but Wilson was already contemplating redemption and this time, as it turned out, she would be part of it.

"There was a grey cloud when the squad returned to Valencia and everyone who was involved was still absolutely gutted that they didn't make the Olympics," added the Randalstown player-coach.

"But I suppose when I came into the squad, I was buzzing around and I didn't really understand what it meant to them.

"So I would just say, 'Come on girls, we'll get to the next Olympics' and I was just trying to cheer everyone up and draw a line under it.​

"I've always wanted to go to an Olympics and it's something I've dreamed of since I was very young and to think of it now that we've done it gives me goosebumps."

Wilson was part of the Ireland squad that defied the odds to lift the silver medals at last year's World Cup but even then the Olympic dream was soon to become the priority.

"Before the World Cup, we knew it was a stepping stone for us to see where we stood on the global stage but we always had the Olympics in the back of our minds," said Wilson.

"Yes, the World Cup was brilliant and to get a silver medal was beyond our wildest dreams, but we always wanted to get to an Olympics and I suppose after the week of celebrating the silver medals, we said that we had another job to do and that was to qualify for Tokyo."

It's back to bread and butter for the Irish players this weekend as the EY Irish Hockey League finally gets under way after being put on the back burner due to the Olympic qualifiers.

However, it's not yet known how many members of the squad will be available to represent their respective clubs as they have to undergo individual medical assessments before being given the all-clear to play.

Lizzie Colvin definitely won't be playing for Belfast Harlequins against Old Alex as she is off to South Africa to get married and Shirley McCay is on the guestlist and so won't be lining out for Pegasus against Railway Union in Dublin.

FIXTURES: Saturday: EY Irish Hockey League: Catholic Institute v Muckross; Cork Harlequins v UCD; Old Alex v Belfast Harlequins; Pembroke v Loreto; Railway Union v Pegasus (3.30pm).

IHL 2: Pool A: Corinthian v Trinity; Cork C of I v NUI.; Pool B: Greenfields v Ards (2.20pm); Queen's v Monkstown (1pm);.

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