European champions. Wow. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. The last thing I remember, we were two goals down, under the pump the whole match and with eight minutes left on the clock.
At the end of most tournaments, even when we won the World League semi-finals to qualify for the Rio Olympics, you are left thinking – what if? What if we had scored that penalty corner? What if I hadn’t kicked the ball at that crucial moment? What if my team-mate had called me to step left and that ball wouldn’t have got through on goal?
At the end of the European final at the Olympic Park on Sunday, there were no what ifs. Absolutely none. The statistics say we should have lost the match by a large margin. We conceded possession time after time. Our defence scrambled the ball away from the goalmouth on more occasions than I have enough characters to describe. We faced nine penalty corners to a Dutch team who convert more than any other country in the world.
One of the reasons we all love sport is you can never write the script. With 15 minutes to go, we had nothing to lose and still believed. We are a dogged bunch and our character and unity means we will fight to the end. The Dutch underestimated us. They slowed the tempo and could sense victory.
We won only our second short corner of the match and scored. It was terribly scrappy but it went in. Three minutes later we had another short corner. Again, a far from slick execution and via a slight graze of an English foot, it went in. The Dutch had lost their video referral earlier in the game so they couldn’t contest the decision. It was 2-2 with time for us to go for the win.
The game went to penalty shuttles. We have the best goalkeeper in the world at these and we had practised endlessly for this pressurised situation. We celebrated the draw knowing we had the upper hand. The manager read out who was taking a shuttle at the end of the game and the order in which we would go. I was fifth. I certainly wouldn’t have volunteered for the job. But if your team put their trust in you, you step up with confidence and deliver what you’ve done time and time again in training. I will never know if all my practice would have paid off as the Dutch had three shuttles saved and the competition was over.
Celebrating in front of a home crowd, in a packed stadium, was up there with winning the Olympic bronze medal. It was hard to take in. You celebrate with the fans, your team-mates, the staff, sponsors, all the volunteers who made it happen, friends, family.
The night ended around 3am, everyone still wearing their playing kit. Alex Danson still had her gumshield in her sock! We all met back at our training base at noon the next day to go through our gym programme for September. No time to sit back and soak up the glory. We are only 11 months away from Rio. I have to admit, I have looked at my medal every few hours since we won it. I miss my team already and I can’t wait to get back training so we can win the next final a different way – by being the best team in the world, not just Europe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah MacLeod is a 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist and has amassed over 120 international caps, winning a medal at every major competition, since making her debut in 2004. Prior to becoming full-time in 2009, Hannah completed a PhD in Exercise Physiology and continues to work part-time as a performance nutritionist. She is the co-founder of A Word On Nutrition, a nutrition consultancy business. Other articles by Hannah.
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