With positive noises the Olympic Games will go ahead – with or without fans – Nicci Daly is grateful for the long lead-in time as she looks to potentially sign off a remarkable career on the biggest stage.
When lockdown hit, the Loreto player was on the comeback trail after a number of niggles over the winter months. It meant a potential race against time for one of the Green Army’s most skillful players but the postponed Games meant the 32-year-old could look at a longer-term strategy to give her the best possible chance of selection.
“Coming back after six months off, the key thing is getting the body used to being in a ‘hockey position’ again!” she told The Hook at the 20×20 Show Your Skills finale this week.
“It seems to take a bit longer for me than others. I got through the last block [of training] well; I am not exactly where I want to be but I am happy with where I am going. It’s nice we do have this period of time before it really ramps up to gradually reach the levels I want.”
And that is the obvious focus now after such a long delay.
“You spend your whole career waiting for an Olympic Games. We waited a long time and it’s been a year since we’ve qualified. You’re looking forward to that moment. It was definitely tough to take at the time [it was postponed].
“We didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was hard to stay motivated. But now that we’ve gotten some positive messages coming from the Olympic Federation and Japan, in the sense that they are preparing for an Olympics, Covid or no Covid.
“As a player that’s getting a little bit older, I’d seen Tokyo as being the end for me. The training is tough. Sean [coach, Dancer] really emphasises a lot the physical side of the game and trying to run a lot with the ball, to be more of an attacking team.
“Is my body going to be okay tomorrow? Will I be able to keep going with what’s being asked of me? Having that down time was nice to be able rest and reassess.”
That latest block of training has seen several high-octane inter-squad fixtures with a number of young faces freshening things up with Katie-Jane Marshall, Caoimhe Perdue, Michelle Carey, Sarah Patton and Sarah MacAuley involved in those encounters.
It is an effort to replicate competitive club matches currently on hold and Daly welcomes seeing the new faces around even if it does mean another layer of competition to get into the final 16 for Tokyo.
“The new players have given us a new impetus and a fresh approach, new playing styles and skillsets which is nice to have. They have come in an integrated well so the training environment has been really good.
“It motivates everyone in the squad to do as well as they can. At the end of the day, we want the best squad going. If people can help push us on, it’s healthy. The young guns will certainly do that.”
Like team mate Katie Mullan, she is aware the Olympics may be a very different event to what has gone before but this could have minimal impact on the Green Army.
“We have been told it will be a different Olympics but we don’t have any experience of it. For us, when we get to competition time, we know its when we are at our best. If other teams are complacent, and not enjoying it because it’s not like before, we can take advantage and we are a good team for doing that!
“We know that Tokyo is going to be [one of] the hottest Olympics in the history of the Olympics so getting into those environments, and training and playing in those conditions is really important for us.”
2021 is likely to be her last year of international hockey, an exceptionally busy one with the European Championships also brought forward to account for the Tokyo delay.
“We want to go away in January. Whether or not the virus will allow that to happen, or current restrictions . . .Obviously we’ve got a European Championships to prepare for, which wasn’t in the original plan. So, it adds two major competitions into our schedule for next year.
“After I retire from hockey it would be nice to go back and try to do a little bit of work with a motorsport team – maybe in a different role, who knows?
“I went to the States for about two years and worked as a data engineer for the IndyLights programme with Juncos Racing. That was 2016-2018 – on and off, in between hockey, I did a full racing season with them. I did an off season with them as well in 2017.
“Since coming back in 2018, after the World Cup, it was preparing for the Olympics. After the World Cup, we entered a semi-professional program and it just didn’t allow me to keep working in that sport as I’d like to.”
The ever-changing restrictions did allow her to head over to France to mentor rising karting star Alyx Coby as she became the first Irish female driver to take on the IAME World Cup.
It ties in neatly with the 20×20 campaign, one which Daly has embraced wholeheatedly. Last year, she brought together a who’s who of Irish sports women for a one-lap challenge while her lockdown skills videos in March were a large inspiration for the 20×20 promotion this week.
And she is keen to see the platform grow further.
“It’s something I have been involved with a lot! Even though it’s coming to an end, it doesn’t stop. It has given us a platform to build and the momentum, no matter what you are involved in.
“There’s always more that can be done to push the boundaries of what might be possible. For me with Formula Female, I have learned a lot from the campaign, especially the “Think it, ask it”. It’s brought up a lot of interesting topics that need to be addressed.
“The one-lap challenge introduced me to a lot of sportswomen who I was aware of but would never have had a conversation with. Since then, I know Jacqui Hurley has been great at getting like-minded people together.
“Everyone is on the same page and wants to achieve the same thing for women in sport. We all different roles to play – some play, some are behind the scenes, some are in the media. We all do what we can to move things forward.”