England’s hockey players start their Commonwealth Games fixtures tomorrow with a preliminary-round match against South Africa. Giselle Ansley tells The Mixed Zone’s Will Moulton why they are desperate for success on the Gold Coast after a cruel finale four years ago
Giselle Ansley may be one of hockey’s most personable figures, with a broad grin to match, but mention the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a steely resolve comes to the fore. With good reason, too. Ansley is one of a number of England players now on the Gold Coast with a score to settle after losing the final four years ago in a shootout against Australia.
Ahead with just moments to play, Ansley and her team-mates were dealt the cruellest of blows when Jody Kenny struck an equaliser that would ultimately prove fatal to their hopes of gold: the Hockeyroos emerged 3-1 winners after penalties.
“That loss was heartbreaking, it really was,” the Surbiton player admitted. “To lose after leading with 11 seconds left before they equalised and beat us on a shootout was hard. We definitely want to get one back and finish with that gold medal this time.
“For us the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be a special experience, but also one we want to learn from. That’s really important for us with what’s to come in the rest of this year.”
That heartbreak in Glasgow was the last time the team would taste defeat in such a fashion for a long while as England and Great Britain became feared for their ability in shootouts. With the seemingly invincible Maddie Hinch in goal, and the likes of Helen Richardson-Walsh, Sophie Bray and Hollie Pearne-Webb in their ranks, the team would not lose on penalties at a major competition for more than three years.
That run included two title-clinching victories over the Netherlands, firstly in front of a packed home crowd to win the 2015 EuroHockey Championships, then when they defeated the same opponents 12 months later to claim Olympic gold. Despite the magnitude of the occasion, and with nine million Brits cowering behind their sofas watching the drama unfold on television, Ansley had no doubt her team-mates would be able to repeat their success.
She said: “I was standing on the halfway line and genuinely felt so confident. So confident in Maddie, so confident in the girls stepping up and so confident in everything that we’d done to that point to get us there. Obviously Hollie had nerves of steel at the end, but Helen also showed incredible strength, after missing her attempt during the game itself [following a foul on Bray by the goalkeeper], to step up and take a penalty stroke after that. Fair play to them – they were absolutely unbelievable.”
While some of the players have built substantial post-Rio careers on the back of their gold medals – Sam Quek, for example, has fast become a respected sporting pundit and the Richardson-Walshs continue their quest to promote women’s sport – 26-year-old Ansley has been happy to take a step back and return to her normal routine.
The former Loughborough MCCU cricketer said: “A lot of people say Rio changed their life, but I probably wouldn’t go that far. It was an absolutely incredible thing, but I’m still playing hockey and I’m still the same person – I still do the same things, I still love the same things.
“I still have the same drive and want to do it again – the motivation and determination to train as hard, if not harder, than I ever have because, ultimately, everyone wants to beat us now.”
And off the pitch? “I absolutely love baking! It’s one of those things where you don’t have to think about anything else, you can just chill, relax and do it. I did apply for this year’s Bake Off, but I didn’t get called up for it which was a shame. It was quite good fun to go through the application, although I never realised it would be quite as long as it was!”
Nearly two years have elapsed since Great Britain’s Rio win, but interest in hockey remains high: more than 100,000 ticket applications being made for this summer’s Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup. Participation figures, too, have continued to rise, not least at Plymouth Marjon HC, one of Ansley’s first clubs. They even named a new pitch after their Olympic hero, something that made the Kingsbridge-born player very proud, especially as one of her key goals is to promote hockey as a sport for everyone.
She said: “Plymouth Marjon had to get a second pitch laid post-Olympics as the uptake in hockey was ridiculous and they couldn’t fit everyone on just one. They said they’d like to name it after me – it was absolutely unbelievable and such an honour. I was pretty speechless if I’m honest! I get messages from people saying, ‘I’ve just played on your pitch!’, which is pretty weird, but cool.
“To have that many applications for World Cup tickets was just mind-blowing. Hopefully this summer is not just showing what we’ve done as current players, but also how people in the past have helped us get to a point where people want to watch hockey. It’s going to be a special, special tournament.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Moulton is a ‘Gold Standard’ NCTJ-qualified sports journalist and a First Class graduate from Durham University who aspires to one day commentate on international cricket and an Olympic Games. He is hugely passionate about a number of sports – including cricket, hockey, football and rugby – and also has two national cheerleading titles to his name. Will’s latest articles