“It’s the friendships that come out of it, the feeling that everyone is as important as the next person,” Ali Meeke says of her special hockey tour memories at international and club level.
Just a day after the European Championships in Amsterdam, Meeke was back in work in Ireland, starting up a new role as an ambassador for DB Sports Tours.
The company has been running sports tours around the world for the past seven years and now have a wide range of hockey destinations on offer as well as the ability to create bespoke tours to match the desired blend of competition and recreation.
“Any tour I have been on, like with Loreto in Europe, has been brilliant. Nothing compares to it,” Meeke said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be on a few of them – Lille [in 2011], Rome [in 2010] and Leicester [in 2014].”
“There’s just so many memories,” she reflects. “When we came third in Leicester, it was just superb. We had young players in the squad who weren’t necessarily the Loreto team that had come and gone.”
Her first two tours featured an established core of international players; 2014 was different though with Nikki Keegan’s wedding and a number of other players out due to exams.
As such, their target was to avoid relegation but break-out performances from the likes of Hayley Mulcahy and Ciara Vincent secured an incredible bronze medal, beating Spain’s Complutense in a memorable shoot-out.
“We were a fresh team and underdogs going into it but that tour really brought us together. We eventually went to one-v-ones and it was the less experienced players who brought it all together and did the damage.
“What we got from it was everyone in the squad was as important as the next person, getting to know everyone and it’s something we wouldn’t have got without that environment. It connects everyone and it helps you on the pitch.”
She has also seen the impact a trip away can have on younger hockey players, providing a potential once in a lifetime opportunity. High School – where Meeke attended and also coaches – went to South Africa a couple of years ago.
“It was the talk of the whole school year; South Africa this, South Africa that. They got to see so many things that they probably never would have otherwise. The little relationships between people that maybe wouldn’t have known each other, maybe weren’t in the same class or the same team.
“The friendships that come out of it, you can see it. It joins the whole year group together and they came back as one giant team.
“It doesn’t have to be South Africa or the USA; it’s going to be an amazing experience. The relationship also builds with the staff. It’s not just the hockey; it’s so much more.”
For Meeke, she is enjoying the diversity of the new role and throwing herself into something different after a grueling year on the international stage.
Ireland’s women started their campaign on January 2 and have trained and played all the way through to the last few days in August. A productive summer, with World Cup qualification all but secured, almost had a sour end but for a huge favour from the Czech Republic, beating Scotland to keep Ireland in the top tier in Europe.
Looking back on that dramatic couple of days, Meeke says: “It was a funny day! A really rough day at the office. Following the Spain game, there was disappointment in how we performed.
“We watched parts of the Scotland-Czech game between going back to the hotel to debrief – we were keeping an eye on social media and the live stream where we could! We were biting our nails and obviously, things went in our favour.
“I do think it was the right outcome for some of our performances in the Europeans and before in the summer when we played some superb hockey. The A division is where we do deserve to be.
“But there is frustration and we do have to look into why we ended up in that situation. It’s natural but the important thing is that we do learn from it because there has been some great hockey and we are at our best.
“There was a lot of hockey so, mentally, for the girls that played all the tournaments, I’d say frustration did start to creep in and they could have got tired.
“It was tough; we got home on the Sunday and I got back to work on the Monday. All the team didn’t really have time to process it; we just had to get on with it. So I was happy to have something fresh and new with DB. It made things a little easier and exciting to focus on.”
She is now looking forward to the EY Hockey League season, delayed a couple of weeks due to the umpiring issues between Hockey Ireland and the IHUA. Despite the delay, Meeke is loving being straight back into it with her club.
“This is going to be a cracking season. When you look at the way the teams are lining up with different players moving. From that point of view, it’s going to be a really competitive season which is only going to bring the best out of the panel and that’s what you want.
“It will be a really interesting and our best hockey is yet to come. That competition to get into the squad is going to drive us on for whatever 18 gets picked when we hit that World Cup.
“You miss your club massively when you are away for the summer. It’s like coming home so I was really looking forward to games. We won’t complain having another couple of weeks to get ourselves ready for the league but I am really looking forward to lining out again with Loreto.”
And a good season for Meeke with club and country could mean more memorable trips away on the horizon.
** If your school or club book a tour with DB Sports Tours by October 31, the team’s staff and coach places are free. Go to http://dbshockeytours.com/tours for more information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org