Deirdre Duke is off to the Olympics as part of Team Ireland with the Irish women’s hockey team after being selected by coach Sean Dancer and his backroom.
The 29-year-old described her feelings when she was selected, using words such as elation, excitement, and relief to paint the picture.
She said that it was an unusual moment, an achievement she had chased for her whole career was finally her achievement.
“It was all a bit surreal – it was one of those moments that you’ve waited for your whole career…there was a lot of emotion in my house,” said Duke.
However, she sees it as a bittersweet situation when she thinks of those who missed out.
The Dusseldorf forward initially missed out on selection for the 2021 EuroHockey Championships last month but was called up after injuries affected the squad.
Duke noted that she can understand what those who missed out on Olympic selection are feeling because of this, stating that if it were not for the injuries within the squad, she may not be going to the Olympics.
“It’s been the toughest thing over the last number of weeks – it’s definitely a bittersweet situation…I’ve experienced both sides of the coin in recent weeks…sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
I feel extremely privileged to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics
An honor to represent the entire Green Army, those who paved the way, close friends who just missed out & those coming behind us. In the Spirit of Jack Charlton-We’ll give it a lash in Tokyo!#Tokyo2020 #Olympics pic.twitter.com/waDQaomSsv
— Nicci Daly (@NicciDaly22) June 28, 2021
Ireland fell short of the semi-finals at the Euros with a draw against Spain being the killer blow in the pool stages.
A 5-1 loss to England where “the wheels fell off” after taking the lead denied the ladies a fifth-placed finish and a spot at next year’s FIH Hockey World Cup.
Nevertheless, Duke believes there are positives to take from the ultimately disappointing campaign.
“I think we can take a lot of confidence from the hockey we played at the Euros going forward.”
Lessons can be learned from the defeat also as England’s purple patch in the second quarter was what took the game out of Ireland’s hands.
Every team will have purple patches and Duke feels that Ireland needs to keep their focus and weather the storms.
Additionally, the former UCD captain believes anything is possible in tournament hockey, as proven by Ireland 2018 FIH Hockey World Cup campaign which saw them finish runners-up as the second-lowest-ranked side at the competition.
“We’ve taken a huge amount of confidence from that tournament…..anything can happen in a one-off game.”
Yet, Duke noted that their run to the final included numerous close games and that their two knockout wins were via penalties, adding that the squad are “under no illusion.”
A new coach, new backroom staff and new players have come into the national setup since then, but the core of the World Cup squad remains.
11 of the 16 players going to the Olympics have silver medals from the 2018 World Cup run and the squad are a tight-knit group as a result.
Irish ladies hockey team progress to the World Cup final after a 3-2 penalty shootout victory over Spain. 🏑 👏👏👏👏 #HWC2018 https://t.co/cb5NEjRIXg pic.twitter.com/toyBwJRMZD
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI) August 4, 2018
The players kept themselves entertained throughout the World Cup in 2018 with all kinds of antics and there is great morale and a great spirit in the Olympic squad, according to Duke.
“We’re all buzzing to get there and get going.”
An extra year with Dancer and his staff before the Olympics has helped the team get to grips with what they ask of them and the side head to the games with a better understanding of what Dancer and co. want then they would have last year.
The preparation for the tournament has ramped up in recent weeks after a rest period following the team’s exit from the Euros.
To prepare for the conditions in Japan, Duke and the team have been doing a lot of work in heat chambers.
They were in a 45C sauna on Monday morning for 40 minutes and are doing what they can to acclimatise themselves to the Japanese humidity from their camp in Jordanstown, Belfast.
However, Duke thinks the conditions will still force the squad into a period of adjustment.
“There’s no comparison to playing at 12 o’clock in the day with 90% humidity.”
The team will head to Iwate on the northeast coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu where they will set up camp 10 days before the tournament kicks off on July 24th.
Regardless of previous experiences, Duke admitted that the side does not know what to expect from the Olympics games.
“We’re the first women’s team to go so we really don’t know what to expect…we have no real expectations of what it should be like or what it is going to be like. We’re going to try and take it all in…at the end of the day, it’s just another hockey tournament so hopefully we won’t let the emotion, or the occasion get to us.”