Niamh McIvor has delivered a heartfelt reaction to the postponement of the European Under 18 Championship until next year when it will be staged as a one-off Under 19 event in 2021, writes John Flack.
The trip to Kazan was to have been an early pinnacle of her short career which had gone from strength to strength this season.
A couple of weeks ago, the 17-year-old striker was to have played in the Kate Russell Cup for her school in Galway and then line out for Pegasus against UCD in the Irish Senior Cup final but those events were among the early casualties of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the Belfast Royal Academy student fully accepts that hockey has been put into perspective by the impact of the disease. Niamh has several relatives working on the front line of the health service in Northern Ireland.
Naturally, her primary concern is for their well being and her thoughts also go out to all those who are suffering or have lost loved ones in the current crisis.
Niamh starts her articulate and moving account by giving her reaction upon hearing the news that this year’s Under 18 Euro tournament had fallen victim to the pandemic.
“When I first became aware of the tournament cancellation, I was naturally really disappointed until I read further that this is actually a postponement.
“I was expecting the cancellation news to be honest as the Covid-19 situation unfolded and it was becoming inevitable that the tournament would not be feasible with ongoing restrictions to people’s movements to avoid the virus spreading further.
“I was thinking that my season, from a personal note, was going so well having won the Denman Ulster Shield with Pegasus and the Belfast Telegraph Schools Cup with BRA.
“Then coronavirus comes along, followed by the cancellation of the Kate Russell finals with BRA, the Irish Senior Cup final and the European Club finals with Pegasus and now the Irish U-18 Europeans, so it couldn’t have been worse.
“To hear, however, that the U-18 tournament will now be played in 2021 is fantastic news. The whole team, players and management have been working towards this opportunity collectively since we were at U-16 level, three years ago in Cork.
“The majority of the squad is still together from that era with new fantastic players coming in to strengthen the squad even further.
“All that hard work is not in vain; we just need to re-plan, refocus and set our sights on 2021, to ensure we are fully prepared to take on the best countries across Europe.
“Most people do not realise how much effort and work we put into such preparations. Every day, we capture information about our health and well-being; we adhere to dietary guidance and we follow a professional fitness regime laid out by our coach Gavin and Sami.
“Even though we haven’t been able to train on the pitch for weeks now, the backroom team, led by our manager Leah Spillane, still gets us together once a week to bond via a video conference call. Our spirits are still high and now they will be even higher given our new goal for 2021.
“Given we are all in isolation now, it’s easy to take your eye of the ball and become a little complacent with regards to fitness and ball work.
“Its important that we stick together as a team, to motivate each other, to keep bonding and encourage each other to keep working hard.
“The weekly conference calls with the entire team helps to keep us focused, however most nights we would now be on some sort of video chat calls with different team members, catching up, comparing notes and maintaining those bonds.
“The hardest thing I find at the moment is not being able to get onto the pitch, to see my friends face to face and the banter that comes with all of that.
“It’s strange on reflection that when that freedom to play sport that we take for granted is no longer a priority given the situation we are in, it allows you to understand how much it means to you as a person and an athlete.
“For over four years now, playing for the Junior Irish squad, my hockey routine has become part of my life.
“Training, strength and conditioning, hockey drills, playing in the cold and wet, winning, losing, always learning, having a laugh with the other players – all of that has suddenly stopped and it leaves a huge void.
“I really miss it and cannot wait until we can get going again. Until that happens of course, my thoughts are with all those on the front line including my two aunts and uncle who are putting their lives at risk every day to provide us with the critical care that is needed.
“I feel really sad for those poor families who have lost someone to this dreadful virus and until that threat is lifted, my dreams and desire to play hockey are insignificant.”