Hannah Matthews calls time on stellar Ireland career
Olympian and 2018 World Cup silver medalist Hannah Matthews has confirmed her retirement from international hockey having been a crucial figure in the Ireland’s rise over the past seven years and 157 caps.
Since making her debut in 2014, the Loreto woman has been one of the first names on the team sheet, being an ever-present at each major tournament during that time.
“It’s 150 more caps than I thought I would ever get,” she said in the wake of her decision.
“There was a long period where I wasn’t involved but once I got in, it was a case of grabbing the opportunity and I have enjoyed every second of it.”
Matthews is something of a rarity as a ‘one-club’ player, lining out for Loreto since she was eight-years-old, combining club life with her successful school days at Loreto Beaufort.
With them, she scored the winning goal in the Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup final in 2008 in a 2-1 success against Alexandra College.
Scoring big goals became a habit in those early years. While still a teenager – under the tutelage of future Irish coach Graham Shaw – she won the inaugural Women’s Irish Hockey League title in 2009 and, a year later, took the Irish Senior Cup final win against Railway Union; Matthews was raised and carried aloft by her team mates when she scored the winning penalty stroke.
They are the kind of early career highlights that often lead to instant Irish call-ups but the now 30-year-old had to bide her time, a difficult situation but one, in hindsight, widened her horizons.
““I don’t know what other people thought but I did have that expectation,” she said.
“I played Under-16, Under-18, Under-21 and I saw other people getting called in and you do start to think ‘this is not going to happen for me’. I worked on what I could work on and when the opportunity came, I was very much ready for it at 23.
“I had my college years, had a social life and so it worked out pretty well and I was lucky!
“I was playing away with Loreto and that was such a big thing for me, lining out in such a competitive team who wanted to play at a high standard.
“One year, I just sucked it up and worked on my fitness and got a call-up. I almost didn’t go to the trial weekend because it was in the middle of my teaching practice but I went and haven’t looked back since.”
That call came from coach Darren Smith, who she reckons wans’t ‘a huge fan of mine at the start’, but ‘he kept an open mind and called me in. I owe so much to him’.
From her debut In the idyllic vineyard setting in Mori, she describes it as a “whirlwind” from the devastation of missing out on the Rio Olympics to winning the EuroHockey Championship II a couple of weeks later.
“Darren wanted me to get in there, make my debut, get my cap as quickly as possible. He set a tone of a professional squad.
“Everyone took it so seriously, it was such a self-driven team which he ran from above. It was a great environment to come into. Obviously, it is everyone’s dream to play in an Olympics so that next summer was really tough to take but it did drive us. “You still look back and think it was almost like a holiday compared to Tokyo! We were having the time of our lives.
“Stepping away from it, I am just so grateful for every bit of it – the people I have met along the way, the people who have supported me who have been incredible.”