Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Roisin savouring Olympics prospect

By Richard Bullick

Physiotherapist Roisin Murphy from Silverbridge can look forward to being involved in next year’s Olympics after the Irish hockey team’s ground-breaking qualification for Tokyo 2020.

Ireland’s women will compete at the Games for the first time ever after a Sunday night of incredible drama in Dublin earlier this month which brought a nail-biting sudden death victory over Canada in a penalty shoot-out in front of a record crowd of over 6000 at Donnybrook.

Last year’s shock World Cup finalists Ireland had home advantage for this Olympics play-off, which took place over two legs on consecutive evenings, but both games finished scoreless.

Outplayed on the Sunday by their lower-ranked opponents, Ireland were teetering on the brink when they found themselves trailing 3-1 in the shoot-out but, as in London last summer, they had heroes to rise to the occasion. 

Two wonderful saves by the world’s leading goalkeeper, Ayeisha McFerran from Larne and successful conversions by Lurgan woman Bethany Barr and Chloe Watkins sent the tie into sudden death.

Roisin Upton, who hadn’t scored from her previous penalty, netted from an acute angle before McFerran kept out Canada’s attempt to stay alive, though a video referral prolonged the suspense for a few minutes.

Local television viewers will have seen Murphy standing in the tightly-linked line of Ireland players not assigned to take penalties, looking understandably tense like everyone else, and subsequently joining in the excited celebrations.

She may not wield a stick herself but, after two years on the road with the girls in green, former Armagh ladies footballer Roisin is hugely emotionally invested in this team.

A popular person and highly respected professional within this set-up, she expresses delight for the players that their dream has come true and naturally is also looking forward to her own role in Japan next summer.

“Ah you live and breath the emotions for you’re around the girls all the time, more than the management to be honest.  You’re talking to them one on one, sitting in on the team meetings and knowing what qualifying for the Olympics would mean.

“During the match I’ve a professional job to do so you can’t get too caught up in it like a pitch-side supporter but, while athlete well-being is my priority, you’re also aware of the performance element and how the game’s going.

Physio Roisin Murphy and player Lizzie Colvin celebrate the Irish hockey team’s historic qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“International hockey tournaments have very busy schedules and even in this case we had these two big games in 24 hours but thankfully we kept everybody viable,” says Murphy.

It was actually revealed afterwards that her namesake Upton, scorer of the winning penalty, had broken a bone in her wrist earlier in the game and the Limerick woman also took a very heavy tumble towards the end.

The players not involved in the shoot-out were left to watch helplessly with their lifelong dreams in the hands of others but, like Murphy, had absolute belief in their colleagues.

“You’re obviously nervous of course especially with so much riding on it, but we as staff were fully confident in the girls.  They have fantastic character, as we saw at last year’s World Cup, and Ayeisha is an unbelievable goalkeeper.

“Beth Barr and her twin Serena, who are Lurgan girls, have come into the squad since London but they’re very hard workers and it was wonderful to see Beth converting such a pressure penalty to keep Ireland afloat.

“I actually enjoyed the shoot-outs during the World Cup, maybe because Ireland were in bonus territory at that stage in the quarter and semi-finals, but not this one because there was too much at stake.

“The early stages of the shoot-out were worrying and, even at the end, the Canadian referrals added to the tension, especially after what had happened with the Irish men’s team the week before, but thankfully it all worked out in the end.

“The atmosphere was just amazing.  There was a fantastic crowd of over 6000 on both nights and, although not a traditional hockey venue, Donnybrook put on a really good show.  

“The torrential rain made conditions difficult on the Saturday, slowing the game down and not helping the spectacle, and the drop-in pitch contributed to a lot of sore bodies ahead of Sunday but opting for the bigger stadium was an overall success.”

The Barr twins and imposing goalkeeper McFerran were among seven Ulster players in Ireland’s squad of 18, which was captained by Coleraine woman Katie Mullan, who has won silverware with Eoghan Rua camogs in Croke Park.

Murphy praises the ‘calm and composed’ Mullan’s leadership and also the enormous experience provided by Drumquin’s Shirley McCay, who won her 300th cap in the first leg of the play-off.

“Shirley’s an inspiration and no hassle for a physio.  She gets on with her work and is always a light load for the staff,” says Roisin of a sportswoman who made a good impression locally as guest speaker at Armagh LGFA’s 40th anniversary dinner last November.

There are actually three players from the Orchard county in this Irish squad, with the Barr twins having recently joined long-serving Lizzie Colvin, who comes from just outside Armagh city.

“Lizzie’s such a stalwart with more than a decade under her belt in the Irish set-up.  She had an outstanding game on Saturday and just works so hard, including combining hockey with working as a lawyer in Belfast.

Before flying out, the day after qualification, to Cape Town for her wedding last Saturday, Colvin paid tribute to Murphy’s physio skills for helping ensure a bit of a bang to the face against Canada didn’t result in a dreaded black eye to spoil photos of her big day!

After her honeymoon and a brief break for everyone, attentions will turn to the long countdown towards Tokyo and Murphy, who works for the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland (SINI) is relishing playing her part in that with the squad under new Aussie coach Sean Dancer, who has taken charge in recent months.

“Naturally I’m hoping to continue in my role.  I love working with this amazing group in the hockey, but for all of us to be part of Team Ireland at an Olympics is such an exciting prospect.

“I’ve been to a World University Games before but this is the first female team to be part of an overall Irish Olympics team and to be the head physio for them would be a huge highlight in my professional life,” enthuses Roisin.

The former Belle of Armagh hated missing Silverbridge’s Senior Championship matches against Dromintee and Armagh Harps in August while away with Ireland at the European Championships but qualifying for Tokyo makes all the sacrifices feel worthwhile.