Ireland’s hockey odyssey: ‘This is an emergency. I’m playing in the World Cup final’

The remarkable journey to the final as told by some of those closest to the action

The late call-up

Emily Beatty was on holidays. She planned to travel to London to support the Irish team in the World Cup final and packed her face paint. Then her life changed forever.

"On the Saturday during the semi-final Megan Frazer was injured. Back in Ireland I was given a heads up. I was on my holidays in West Cork. I'd my flight booked to London because I was going to go over as a fan to support the girls in the final. But I changed that flight from the Sunday to the Saturday anyway. Then when I didn't get a call from London on the Saturday night I figured that Megan was all right to play in the final.

Anyway I drove to Cork airport with my bag on Saturday. I had the face paint and everything because I was going to be supporting the girls. But I also packed my kit, my sticks and hockey shoes and shin guards and brought them too.

It wasn’t until about 11.30 on the Sunday morning (the match was a 4.30 start) when Sharpie (coach Graham Shaw) rang me. He asked me how long it would take for me to get to the team hotel over in Canary Wharf. I was in a hotel way over on the other side of London.


I was like ‘Oh My God this is crazy’. I completely thought at that stage the opportunity had passed. I had already arranged to meet up at the stadium with some of the other girls on the team that had missed out.

So I ran down from my hotel, jumped into a taxi and I said to the driver ‘this is an emergency. I’m playing in the World Cup final’.

He said he’d been a cab driver for 22 years and he’d never heard that story before. He said to me, ‘like I’m really taking you to a World Cup final?’ When we got to the team hotel we posed for a photo and he said he’d put it up on the London cabbie website.

Graham greeted me and said we’ve a team meeting in 15 minutes and to hang out with the other girls for a while until it started.

I was so ecstatic. There was no time to feel nervous, no time to think. It was like taxi, hotel, team meeting, team meal, bus, stadium, World Cup final. I was thinking it’s absolutely crazy. But I’d played in the warm-up games against Japan and Italy and Chile so I felt prepared.

I just sent my family a text message that I am going to play in the World Cup final and I’m putting away my phone so let everybody know. My parents couldn’t make it and that was a shame because they had been to every one of my matches.

You want to win every game you play. But the Dutch . . . the Dutch are the best in the world. By miles. Surreal that’s the word that probably sums it up. You could never have predicted those 48 hours in a million years.

The former captain 

Noelle Branagan was Irish captain at the 1986 World Cup in the Netherlands. Beating the US cleared out old demons, getting a silver medal just gorgeous.

For the semi-final I was in London watching The Heathers musical. Going in I’d a text from Betty (sister). One nil it said. Oh god. I went back in. Out again at the interval there were seven texts going none nil, one all, penalties, and then YES we are going to the final. I had to go back in for the second half of the play. Every now and then I felt a river of emotion run through me. I was ringing people and one of the ushers came up to me and said are you okay. She thought somebody had died.

I was talking to Deirdre Duke after the final and I said to her that the first game against the USA you lifted demons with your two goals. She scored two of three goals. She lifted demons off anyone who was in the 1986 World Cup because we got physically beaten up by the Americans. No cards. No nothing and they took Joanne Menown out of the competition with a broken finger.

When you are with people in a moment of significance you remember things. We lost 4-3 to New Zealand. A draw we would have been in the top eight, a win we would have been in the top four.

I was captain of the ’86 World Cup team and I had to go out and collect the fair play trophy. I wanted to shove it up the umpire . . . to now watch these young women out in a World Cup final. There were smiling, they were pushing the beyond, they were tolerating extreme heat, they were clear and confident.

For so long in Ireland, even for this new team, they nearly did things. They nearly got to Rio. For so long nearly. This time nearly wasn’t our word. It was nearly for India, nearly for Spain. My goodness. I didn’t get a sense of oh God, they are going to be weak. Excited yes.

I was sitting beside a parent of one of the players and she was going “Oh feck, oh feck, oh feck . . . then she’d turn and say oh I’m sorry. I said ‘Oh no, oh no, please feck, feck, feck all you want’.

There was that weird thing that they were playing FOR the World Cup as opposed to playing IN the World Cup and they didn’t go all ‘oh mammy’.  It was a gorgeous position to be in.

The backroom staff

Joan Morgan, Hockey Ireland’s logistics manager had a World Cup of sourcing tickets for parents and fans and changing flights.

When we got to the semi and final my days totally changed into helping parents and supporters with tickets. The USA and Germany gave us a lot of tickets and we also got tickets from England. Shane Ross and John Treacy and Ken Spratt from the Department came over and the Irish Ambassador in London was there.

Getting home was a nightmare. Originally we booked no flights because it’s London and well served by airports. I’d an arrangement with CityJet to speak to them after the quarter-finals. When we made the top four we knew that was big. Then after the semi it changed again. I spoke to John and Ken about a civic reception which was confirmed late on Saturday. Meanwhile, CityJet was trying to get them home. It was me and Catherine McManus and Alex Sherwood doing all the media on her own. England would probably have an entire marketing department.

We said to CityJet that we had to be all together as a team and a 6.30pm flight on Monday was too late. In fairness they put on an additional flight and we left at 10.30am. We’d 58 people, team, parents, family. When we landed there were fire engines there to greet us by the side of the plane with tricolours flying. The first time it really hit? It was on Monday night on the 9 o’clock news.

The mother

Adie Meeke watched her daughter Ali and the team grow with every match and blossom into a group with a shared belief.

Generally in hockey your expectations follow through. It was the first major tournament I’d been to. Ali had missed out twice before. In that respect it was a big thing. It was almost like watching a progression for her in confidence and inner strength. I saw her evolving over two weeks in London. Together this team grew. I suppose I could see it because she is my daughter. There was a new-found confidence and I saw it in a lot of the girls. We all know our kids.

You could definitely feel something was stirring. It seemed like they were ready and each believed in the other. After five minutes of the first game I knew Ali would hit her stride. I could see the change and I could sense the same vibe from the other girls too.

The shootouts were like a fist in my stomach twisting. When I saw Ali step up it was ‘oh my God’. You don’t want your daughter under that pressure. I felt anguish to be honest. You can go very quickly from high to low. The click of a finger. I felt immensely proud, oh yes immensely proud. Regardless of what knock downs you can make it in the end. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will.

The psychologist

Gary Longwell has travelled from international rugby to women’s team sports psychologist

They are an unbelievably impressive group that hadn’t realised just how special they are. The best teams are driven by the players. They handled themselves with grace and have been so generous to pass the success around. That’s typical of them.

You’ve heard the Christmas songs they were singing. That was the excitement we all felt as kids at Christmas. That was a belief they created. We talked about this being the pressure and this is being the reward. It was getting into those terms, the players believing they’ve worked so hard and done so much so why not go and enjoy it.

It was absolutely critical. I’ve learned a lot more from them than they have from me, how to get mentally ready for games and how to relax. I just observed, looked for trends, looked for little things. They are all high fliers in their work life but have this incredible dedication to their sport. It was important that they enjoy this experience. They didn’t let that pass them by. They relished it. Bottom line what you had was a really special group. They were almost the last to realise it.

The father

Gordon Watkins had no doubt about his daughter Chloe’s toughness taking part in the penalty shootouts

I’d no ticket for the semi-final or the final. Then I met a guy at the quarter-final. He was an Aussie and told me they had block booked 200 tickets. He said I have 30 and I might have 50 tickets. I said to him we’ll take them all. The parents were beginning to panic a bit and get frustrated. I met him in the bar behind the south stand where I met Joan from Hockey Ireland and she sorted it. They were all face value tickets. So we knew we’d get two per girl, £70 for the semi-final, £90 for the final.

My son Gareth and daughter Courtney came over. Courtney came from Portugal. She went to watch an earlier match in a pub over there and a crowd of soccer fans came in to watch Hibs and Aberdeen. Tattoos, the lot. But the bar said hockey were here first. The football fans started grumbling so Courtney stood up and said “Look my sister is playing in this match and I’m watching it.”

She left Portugal when they got through and came over. I’d booked an apartment for the two weeks for £2,400 and thought it expensive. As the tournament went on, it ended up being an inspired decision.

With the shootouts everyone was saying to me, are you not nervous? But at the quarter-final they had done more than they expected. I wasn’t worried. Chloe is quite a cool individual. I’ve been in tennis competitions and golf competitions with her and if she had a 12 foot putt on the18th to win the competition she would sink it. And a swing to die for.

The shootouts I said to Chloe 'Chloe I would put my shirt on you to step up and be brave enough, practice them and be cool enough'. Gillian Pinder is the same. No, I didn't expect to see this in my lifetime.