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School Games 2017 - Athlete Blogs

After a long summers training, the squad was picked for the School Games 2017 from 31/08 to 03/09.   It was an early start for the Ulster Hockey boys, some alarms set to 4.30am to make check in at 6.15am from Belfast City Airport.  Following the short flight and bus journey we arrived at Loughborough University Student Campus Accommodation.  We received school games kit in Ulster colours which everyone appreciated whether it was the correct size or not! First game was at 4pm against England Blue.  Usual pre match build up made sure the journey was out of the legs and ready to face what turned out to be the strongest of the three English teams.  A tight aggressive encounter resulting in a 4-2 loss with lots of improvements needed for the Scottish game the next day.  In the evening we attended the opening ceremony incorporating the competitors of all sports, volunteers and officials making us realise how big and well run the School Games is.

A well-earned sleep in Loughborough halls and good food gave us plenty of energy for the coming day. Fuelled and well rested, we set about putting in a good performance against the Scottish resulting in a 3-1 win.  Players and coaches were very pleased with the performance with the knowledge that it puts us in contention for a medal, which colour?

In our third game we played England White who were eager to gain their first win.  We denied them this with a mature performance resulting in a 4-0 win. Our supporters (parents & friends) had doubled overnight giving us vocal support noticed by us and others.  This was our last evening so we joined other athletes in the athlete’s village to relax.

At the beginning of the final day the medal placings were still undecided.  England Blue secured gold medal in the morning with a draw against Scotland.  This left us and England Red playing for silver.  A thrilling 5-5 game gave us the point necessary to claim silver.  A swift medal ceremony and photos which was very well organised brought the event to a close.

Paddy Hunter

After months of preparation, the day had finally come to leave for the School Games at Loughborough University. We gathered at the airport feeling nervous and excited (but mostly reluctant to be awake at six o’clock in the morning.)

Shortly after arriving on campus we began pre-match rituals, facing England Blue in our first game – we knew it was always going to be tough especially with hours of travelling in the morning. As soon as we got to the pitch it was clear to see that this was a tournament unlike any other we had been to, with music blaring, crowd watching and “UK School Games”, plastered on every surface, it was difficult not to feel a little intimidated, but privileged. As we were told before our first game, this tournament was an opportunity unlike any other that we should enjoy and cherish.      

The match started quite shakily, nerves were evident across the pitch, but our strong back line kept England out of the goal. Two quarters later with our nerves thoroughly tested we settled ourselves with dangerous attacking play but unfortunately we struggled to find the back of the net, and were soon punished with a goal against us in the 60th minute of the match, after a polished corner from England Blue – leaving the final score 1-0. Although disappointed we didn’t leave disheartened, knowing we had so much yet to show.  That night it was exciting to be a part of the opening ceremony, which was a special experience only available at a multi-sport event. Needless to say we retired to our beds, tired and ready for the games to come. 

On Friday we faced two difficult games, our first match against England Red. The first two quarters of the game came as a shock to us, England Red managed to score two goals as we again seemed slightly nervous. However after a tough team talk to rile us up, and motivate us to play, we entered the second half with a newfound hunger and eagerness to play. Soon we were two goals up with a great goal from Sophie McDowell in a well taken one vs one, soon followed by a reverse goal from Katie McKee. This impressive comeback brought the score to 2-2 and we didn’t stop there, with Kate Gourley neatly putting the ball in the back of the net and finally a rebound goal from Rachel Houston. This game truly showed the mental strength and capability of our team, to keep going under pressure despite the scoreboard. 

Our win in the morning gave us a good platform for our game against England White later that day, although tired we at least had confidence. Throughout the first half we had plenty of chances including a number of short corners. Great counter attacks from our midfields and forwards pushed England White into their own half but we were unlucky not to score any goals, despite controlling possession. At the end of the first half, the score stood at 0-0, yet we knew that it should really be much more. In the third quarter we pressed England which lead to several circle entries resulting in a reverse stick goal from Katie McKee. We held off England White’s team as well as we could, but unfortunately conceded a late goal, leaving the result 1-1.  With a win, a loss and a draw on our belt the game against Scotland would decide if we got a medal or not. 

Before our final game, we visited the Athlete’s lounge to meet our Mentors, Sarah Clark- three times Olympian for judo and Simon Munn, seven times Paralympian for wheelchair basketball. We engaged in team bonding exercises and they shared their stories of success, as well as the bumps along the way. This session with our Mentors greatly inspired us for our game and we attacked Scotland from the first whistle. After some perfect passing Sophie McDowell put away the first goal, giving us confidence to score another from Rebecca McCullough and another strike from Katie McKee meant the score was 3-0 all just in the first quarter. Despite Scotland scoring a goal we continued to push, with two more goals from Katie McKee, leaving the score 5-1. Robbie kindly rewarded us with pizza that night, all we had to do was wait to see what colour medal we would get on Sunday. 

The other matches on Sunday left us in third place, winning a very impressive bronze medal at the closing ceremony. However, we were just happy for the amazing experience the games provided us, as well as how we played together as a team, to help us with our future hockey careers. 

Alex Burns

Ulster Hockey UnionPhone: 02890 701417Email:
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