Olympian and 2018 World Cup silver medalist Hannah Matthews has confirmed her retirement from international hockey, having been a crucial figure in the Green Army’s rise over the past seven years.
Since making her debut in 2014, the Loreto woman has been one of the first names on the team sheet, being an ever-present at each major tournament during that time and earning 157 caps for the national side.
Matthews won the EuroHockey Championships II with the side in 2015 and was part of Graham Shaw’s silver medalists at the World Cup in 2018.
Most recently, she was part of Sean Dancer’s Olympic squad that made their debut at the famous summer games earlier this year at Tokyo 2020.
“It’s 150 more caps than I thought I would ever get,” Matthews said in the wake of her decision. “There was a long period where I wasn’t involved but once I got in, it was a case of grabbing the opportunity and I have enjoyed every second of it.
The defender had big moments early on in her career at Loreto, a club with whom she has played for since she was eight years old.
However, she did not get her call-up from those highlights and had to bide her time until she earned her debut.
“I don’t know what other people thought but I did have that expectation. I played Under-16, Under-18, Under-21 and I saw other people getting called in and you do start to think ‘this is not going to happen for me’.
“I worked on what I could work on and when the opportunity came, I was very much ready for it at 23. I had my college years, had a social life and so it worked out pretty well and I was lucky!
“I was playing away with Loreto and that was such a big thing for me, lining out in such a competitive team who wanted to play at a high standard.
“One year, I just sucked it up and worked on my fitness and got a call-up. I almost didn’t go to the trial weekend because it was in the middle of my teaching practice but I went and haven’t looked back since.”
Matthews was called up by Darren Smith, who she reckons wasn’t keen on her at the start but she proved her worth over time.
Ireland missed out on the Rio Olympics but the 30-year-old said that the dream of playing at the Summer Games drove them and the side went from strength to strength since their Olympic disappointment.
They won the EuroHockey Championships II weeks after missing out on an Olympic spot and surprised everyone as the second-lowest seed at the 2018 World Cup.
“You still look back and think it was almost like a holiday compared to Tokyo! We were having the time of our lives. It was so close to heartbreak all over again when you look back [at the qualifiers in South Africa].
“Grace [O’Flanagan] came off the bench, made that incredible save against India and it was such a game-changer, something we have in the memory bank that whatever happens, we can come through it. The road that got us there was definitely important and I would not change it.”
The side earned sponsorships before their famous World Cup campaign and this allowed the players to work part-time and train professionally.
Matthews job shared her teaching role at the Holy Trinity National School in Leopardstown as a result of this and is forever grateful for the school and her colleagues to allow her to do so, a healthy situation she knows was an option not afforded to a number of her teammates.
“Of all the things you try to envision, you could never foresee a global pandemic. You just start thinking this might not happen for us. Up until Christmas, I kept checking any social media or news to see what was happening.
“It was worth the wait. For me, it certainly put things in perspective. I always knew I was going to retire after the Olympics. It was almost like another bite of the cherry for preparation and I went into the year wanting to enjoy every second of it, whether I got picked or not.
“I wanted to walk off and say I played my best hockey and enjoyed it. That was very freeing and I do think I played some of my best stuff in an Irish jersey compared to the year before.”
Having given her all in Japan, she is content to step back despite current Irish coach Sean Dancer keeping the door open for a comeback if she is keen
“100% – it was a decision I took a while to make. I didn’t take it lightly and I was honest with Sean. He was brilliant that I could have that honest conversation and it didn’t affect my selection for the Olympics or personal issues.
“It’s lovely to still be wanted but it is the right time in my life. There’s things I have put on hold and people who have put their lives on hold for me so it is time to grow up!
“It certainly hasn’t been easy but we have had great moments and great highlights over the years. Stepping away from it, I am just so grateful for every bit of it – the people I have met along the way, the people who have supported me who have been incredible.
“Now it’s time for teaching and enjoying club hockey! I’m really looking forward to this club season and a nice normal life, maybe slowing down a little bit!”