Kate Dillon is finding life a whole lot busier since finally being called up to the central panel of the Irish senior women’s hockey team.
The Railway Union utility player has long been one of the most effective performers on the Leinster club scene but international recognition looked set to pass her by until new coach Darren Smith took her on board.
Prior to her debut against Scotland last week, Dillon, now 28, had only flirted with the outskirts of the senior squad. At the beginning of Gene Muller’s tenure as Irish coach, she attended an open trial but suffered a back injury on day one and so took no further part in that weekend’s hockey.
Subsequently, she was part of a development side that travelled north for a one-off game under Guy Garrett and attended some regional sessions “to make up numbers” but never received a full blown call-up.
As such, it looked like an international career might pass her by. But a run of form in the Irish Hockey League and Irish Senior Cup for Railway, covering at the back when Emer Lucey was injured and bringing her gritty edge into midfield, played a big part in gaining a call-up.
“I really wasn’t expecting it,” she told The Hook. “There were rumours going round that Darren [Smith] was watching IHL matches. The trial weekend, I thought, went pretty well but it was hard to tell.
“Absolutely, it is a huge honour. Especially when you think you’re too old and past it, to get into an Irish jersey was fabulous.”
Dillon is in the unique position in the Irish setup of being a business owner, the proprietor of the Wooden Spoon café in Blackrock with an offshoot in Pembroke’s clubhouse and plans for further growth.
Combining those concerns with an international career – with all the early morning gym sessions and extra training that entails – looks a daunting one but Dillon says she has not had to look too far for inspiration when it comes to managing the increased load.
“It’s quite hard. The one thing I’d say, from the girls’ perspective – playing with [Railway club mates] Alex Speers and Emma Smyth [pictured with Dillon below] – who have done it for two or three years, I never realised the commitment involved in it.
“You’re a full time athlete trying to have full-time employment. Some of the girls can’t even get jobs because they live up north and the extra commitment that brings.
“I’m finding it difficult but it is good for me in one sense because I can work my hours and then try and fit training around it. The shop is going well enough that I can do that but, on the other hand, I have to rely on the staff to up their game when I’m not there.
“It’s about adjusting my life to it and getting organised. It’s a commitment you have to make and, in fairness to the girls, some of them have been doing it for years.”
Next on the agenda is a series of challenge matches against Canada, starting on Saturday at 2.30pm in Belfield. Dillon is hoping to build on the experience earned over the course of her two caps at Peffermill.
“I really enjoyed it. It was a bit of a shock to the system because it all happened so quickly. I was only training with the side for two and a half weeks before I got the first cap.
“Obviously, I’ve only played club hockey at Railway before then and a bit with the Leinster senior team but it was great. The girls are lovely and I slotted in as a defender and got a lot of pitch time.
“International hockey is that bit more technical and tactical. In club hockey, if you make a mistake it isn’t that bad. The Scottish girls played a lot better than they thought they would and we didn’t really get it together until the second day. The pace is definitely better but it was good fun.”
Notably, she played her part in creating Lisa Jacob’s equalising goal in a 2-2 in the first test.
“It was lovely to get a mention [for one of the goals] but even the tackling, the short corners that you can give away at club level, they are not always going to be converted but playing with Ireland you really have to up your game.”
Women’s Senior International Challenge matches:
Saturday: Ireland vs Canada, 2.30pm
Sunday: Ireland vs Canada, 2.30pm
Tuesday, June 25: Ireland vs Canada, 7.30pm
Monday, July 1: Ireland v Wales 3.30pm, Scotland v Canada, 5.30pm, Newtownabbey
Tuesday, July 2: Canada v Wales, 2pm; Ireland v Scotland, 7pm, Newtownabbey
Thursday, July 4: Ireland v Scotland 12pm, Newtownabbey
Friday, July 5: Ireland v Scotland 12pm, Newtownabbey
Ireland (panel for summer international fixtures): Niamh Atcheler (UCD), Emily Beatty (UCD), Naomi Carroll (Catholic Institute), Lizzie Colvin (Loreto), Nicci Daly (Loreto), Kate Dillon (Railway Union), Deirdre Duke (UCD), Nikki Evans (UCD), Brenda Flannery (UCD), Megan Frazer (Ballymoney), Emma Gray (Hermes), Nicola Gray (UCD), Michelle Harvey (Pegasus), Lisa Jacob (Hermes), Shirley McCay (Old Alex), Ali Meeke (Loreto), Katie Mullan (UCD), Audrey O’Flynn (Hermes), Anna O’Flanagan (UCD), Grace O’Flanagan (Railway Union), Gillian Pinder (Hermes), Niamh Small (Loreto), Pamela Smithwick (Old Alex), Emma Smyth (Railway Union), Alex Speers, (Railway Union), Nikki Symmons (Loreto), Chloe Watkins (UCD)