Tina Evans could never have imagined when she put her international hockey career on hold to further her job prospects outside sport, that she would be back representing Wales in a prestigious tournament on home soil. Will Moulton hears her story
Ask any international athlete to describe how they reached the top of their sport and one word is guaranteed to come up: sacrifice. Family dos, socialising with friends, weddings, all have to fall by the wayside if the dream of representing their country is to be achieved. Welsh hockey player Tina Evans is no exception. But what makes her stand out is that she sacrificed the thing she loved most – pulling on a Wales jersey – to prepare for life after the game.
As Gail Emms emotively described this week, it can be a real struggle for athletes to make the transition into the everyday world once retirement comes. Letting go of their athletic identity can be hard, finding another job even more so.
Despite already working as an IT consultant, Evans made the difficult decision in 2013 to halt her true passion of playing international hockey to ensure she would not suffer similar problems when her playing career ends.
“Obviously we all get to the point where we have to have a job as well and, with the commitment of playing internationally and trying to have another career, I needed to move away from hockey to really establish myself,” the former Wales captain explained.
“So I took some time out. I felt there was a two-year period where I needed a bit of time to really sort my career out, get that going in the direction I wanted it to, before I could come back.”
Having set herself up for the future, the 31-year-old Evans returned to international duty last year and now finds herself in the Wales squad at the EuroHockey Championship II, which start today. She could not have timed her comeback any better either as Wales head into the week-long tournament in stunning form and with a realistic chance of moving up to European hockey’s ‘Division A’ for the first time in their history.
After finding themselves in mid-table in the second division in 2015 – two years after winning promotion from the third tier – Wales know a top-two finish will push them into the highest league for the next championship in 2019. They host their first international women’s event in Cardiff looking to improve on a 13-game unbeaten run in which they have beaten teams ranked in the world’s top 20, and jumped six places this year alone to their highest ranking of 26.
Evans says the Welsh team will relish playing in front of what will certainly be a boisterous home crowd when they take on Austria in their first pool match this evening, Poland on Tuesday and Belarus a day later. Should they qualify, the semi-finals are on Friday.
Evans admitted: “I can’t wait. It’s not something that any of us have ever experienced before, so having our friends and family there will be super exciting. We’re on that unbeaten run as well so we’re really confident at the moment. We could not have had better preparation.”
Then, if they make it to Saturday’s final, the Welsh girls will find themselves competing against professional sides including England and the Netherlands, the three-time Olympic gold medallists, in two years’ time. That would be a major achievement for a part-time set-up that boasts a history teacher, a mortgage advisor and a dentist in its ranks.
It would certainly not have been something Evans dreamt of when she made her debut in 2005. Back then, Wales were lucky if they played five games a year. However, as the sport has grown, so have the number of opportunities. Already this year Wales have competed in the Hockey World League III event in Malaysia as well as a three-match series in which they beat Scotland for the first time in 10 years.
Evans won her 100th cap in the final game of the 3-0 whitewash of the Scots, and expressed her gratitude at being able to return to complete the feat and help expand Welsh hockey even more. “Not many people reach a hundred caps so it was a special occasion,” she said. “It was a really amazing situation to be in and made me feel very proud and privileged and, with the win on top, it couldn’t have been any better.
“I’m so glad I came back and managed to hit that milestone. If I can inspire just a couple of people to pick up their hockey stick again, or carry, on that would also be something I’d be really proud of.”
You can follow live streaming of Wales’ progress in the tournament on the EuroHockey website or from the FIH’s YouTube account. Wales’ pool fixtures all start at 6pm.
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