The sight of Antrim woman Zoe Wilson wearing a broad smile and proudly peering through a pair of goggles while clutching her silver medal was among the many unforgettable images at the women’s World Cup in London last August, writes John Flack.
Now Zoe has her sights firmly fixed on a new target, as Ireland set out on the road to Tokyo with the first stage of the Olympic qualification process kicking off at Banbridge against Malaysia on Saturday.
Wilson (22) became the first bespectacled female player to have competed in a World Cup final although hockey anoraks will point out that two men from India and the Netherlands also wore glasses when competing on the same stage many years ago.
The Belfast Harlequins defender suffers from an eye disorder that makes wearing contact lenses difficult, just like Dutch football legend Edgar Davids, who has glaucoma.
However, Zoe feels perfectly comfortable using the cycling-style goggles and, contrary to what people might think, she has no problems with peripheral vision or when it rains.
With temperatures soaring into the mid-30s in London during the World Cup, the constant sunshine did, however, pose a few difficulties.
Wilson explained: “My eye condition is sporadic but can be aggravated by direct sunlight, so I originally looked into sports goggles as a back up to contact lenses.”
“I went to Vision Express in Ballymena and the staff there were very knowledgeable and recommended the Oakley sports glasses with my prescription that I now wear.
“They are mainly used for cycling but the advantage of them is that the design has excellent peripheral vision.
“Some people feel a certain stigma with wearing glasses, especially in a sport where it is not a common appearance.
“I am allowed to occasionally wear contact lenses but the goggles are so comfortable that I have chosen to wear them as a preference.
“They fit perfectly and are secure on my head while the lens provides a wider field of vision which is essential for playing hockey.
“The glasses have small vents to assist with minimal steaming up, so I haven’t had any difficulty when it rains.
“I had to seek permission from the different hockey governing bodies to get approval to wear them, as they are not yet commonly used on the international scene.
“Post World Cup, I received numerous messages from people inquiring about the glasses and where they could purchase them. I am very grateful to have a partnership with Vision Express.”
Wilson will therefore not be complaining if the weather forecast proves correct and the sun stays away during the bulk of the FIH Hockey series event at Havelock Park.
Ireland, in theory, should have little difficulty in securing the top-two finish they require to progress to the next step on the road to Tokyo, with games against lower-ranked Czech Republic and Singapore to follow the opener.
However, Wilson, who has 83 caps, expects the Malaysia game to be tough despite the fact Ireland beat them 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in the steamy heat of Kuala Lumpur early last year.
She added: “They are a good team and since we last played them, we have changed our style of play and also improved a lot on things and so we expect that they will have done likewise.”
“It will be our first international game on home soil since the World Cup so we are buzzing to get out there and play the way we know we can with all our supporters cheering us on.
“There will be no easy games in this tournament and although we are the highest-ranked team, we know that rankings count for nothing.
“It will be a matter of the team that plays the best on the day and puts the most goals away, so we will have to bring our A game, which is something we are looking forward to.
“The buzz around the World cup is still around hockey which is great, but we firmly have put the summer 2018 success on the back burner and are fully focussed on qualifying for the Olympics.”
Women’s FIH Series Finals (all at Banbridge)
Saturday, June 8
Group A: Ireland v Malaysia, 3pm; Czech Republic v Singapore, 5pm
Group B: Korea v Ukraine, 11am; Scotland v France, 1pm
Sunday, June 9
Group A: Ireland v Czech Republic, 3pm; Malaysia v Singapore, 5pm
Group B: France v Ukraine, 11am; Scotland v Korea, 1pm