By Rory Noonan
Ireland women’s hockey team created history on Sunday night as they qualified for the Olympics for the first time, after their dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Canada.
With the two games ending scoreless, the first on Saturday, it went to the shoot-out and at the end of the regular five penalties they were still level.
But in the sudden death Catholic Institute and former Harlequins player, Roisin Upton put Ireland in front and when Canada missed the celebrations started as they are heading to Tokyo next summer.
One of the first people to congratulate them was Taoiseach Leo Vardkar, who was at the game on Sunday night.
“It was absolutely amazing and I haven’t seen a live hockey game since my sister was playing about 20 years ago. It’s a great spectator sport and I will definitely be coming again.
“It’s such a huge achievement and I may be wrong but I think it’s the first time they have qualified so it’s really special from that point of view and we have been putting a lot of resources into women’s sport in recent years and we are going to continue that,” concluded the Taoiseach.
Upton – the hero of the night – was in dreamland knowing they were going to Tokyo.
“Surreal, it’s just surreal, I can’t believe it. When it went to sudden death Sean (Dancer, Irish head coach) and he told me I was going first and it restored my confidence after missing one in the regular shoot-out.
“He backed me so I was determined to repay that trust and I tried to move the keeper and luckily I squeezed it in.
“Even after that when they referred their sudden death penalty I thought back to the men and how they should be joining us in Tokyo and I recomposed myself and waited for the decision.
“Cagey minute or so until the umpire’s original decision was upheld and all hell broke loose.
“It’s just surreal, you have spent the last four years training for this and the past couple of weeks trying to imagine if we win and in front of a home crowd. It just surpassed it by miles and miles, it’s so real now we have booked our ticket.
“It has been an incredible two nights and the amount of people that came together to make this happen, the volunteers helping put down the pitch, our sponsors, the fans, it’s just so hard to put into words what all this means to us.
It’s fantastic and we can only hope to have more of this in the future.
“We will enjoy the next couple of weeks that’s for sure and members of my club were on the pitch at the end and they are already planning a welcome when I get back to Limerick.
“My roots mean so much to me and under my Irish socks I wear a Catholic Institute one and a Crescent Comprehensive one as it was at these places that i started my hockey and the coaches there did so much to get me to where I am today.
“I just wanted to mention them in any way I could as they mean so much to me. I am looking forward to getting back home to celebrate what is a great achievement for Irish hockey,” concluded Upton.