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Speech at a reception for the Irish women’s hockey team

Áras an Uachtaráin, Friday 7 September 2018

Dear friends,

I am delighted to welcome you all to this reception in Áras an Uachtaráin to honour the Irish Women’s Hockey Team on their wonderful achievement in winning the silver medal in the World Cup. This is the first such victory in the history of Irish women’s hockey. It was, of course, closely followed by the magnificent achievement of Ireland’s over 50s Hockey team in Spain last month, when they won the Exin Masters World Cup and we are also deeply proud of that great success.

Like so many Irish people I was keeping a watch, with increasing delight, as you progressed through your world cup matches in London this Summer, eventually making sporting history when you won against Spain and progressed to the final.

I have no doubt that when we, as a nation, look back on 2018, your great achievement will be recalled as one of its most joyful highlights, and an occasion when Irish people of all ages and from all backgrounds were with you in a great spirit of pride and community in your efforts.

Sabina and I are delighted to have this opportunity to personally salute your achievements and congratulate the team, your coach and, by extension, acknowledge the contribution of parents, family and friends, teachers and mentors and all who helped bring each of you to the point of your success.

I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with Rhys McClenaghan earlier this afternoon and to congratulate him on being Northern Ireland's only gold medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. I am delighted that Rhys and his family can join us here for this celebration.

The road to international sporting success is a challenging and difficult one.  It is not a journey for the fainthearted. Those who seek accolades are required to put in the hard work, and to persevere through the setbacks and difficulties that so often stand between us and our goals.

I know that most of you have full time and demanding jobs, or are studying for degrees and professional qualifications. You have had to therefore deal with the significant challenge of combining your careers or studies with the intensive training necessary to succeed at the highest levels of sport. It is a challenge that places considerable demands on your time and energy, and one that requires enormous commitment, dedication and team spirit. For that you have, even more, our admiration.

Your success in London is a resounding acknowledgement of the special qualities you each possess – qualities that mark out those who are not only very gifted people, but people of courage, of determination, of perseverance in the face of challenges, difficulties and setbacks, and of course the extra dimension you bring, and will bring, to anything you do from achieving excellence as a team.

Your journey to the Hockey World Cup Final made demands on you. You will all have experienced the long hours of training on cold dark Winter evenings, the painful injuries, the physical strain, the disappointment of losing, the necessity to keep going despite disappointment and the summoning of a resolve and to remain focussed despite the many distractions that life may have thrown at you.

May I also thank you for being such positive role models for the young people of Ireland. It is people such as you who inspire our younger generation to become involved in sport, and to develop the qualities and characteristics that will enable them to become engaged and participative citizens in their future lives.

You are also great ambassadors for women in sport and that is greatly important. Regrettably, and despite the extraordinary sporting achievements of Irish women, both individual athletes and those involved in team sports, who have made us so proud on the national and international stage, Irish sportswomen still struggle to attain the same levels of recognition as their male counterparts.

Thankfully, as a society, we are increasingly challenging traditional public perceptions of women in sport and, as has been the case for all of the historical advances for equality made by women, it has been the example and the achievement of sportswomen themselves that has made the greatest difference in spurring media on to recognise that covering women’s sporting occasions is an equality issue and one that the public will support. 

This year you have joined those such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Derval O’Rourke, Katie Taylor, Annalise Murphy Phil Healy, Rhasidat Adeleke, the Irish Women’s Rugby and Soccer teams and many other inspiring Irish sportswomen in enabling us to progress towards a landscape where women’s participation in sport will be recognised for the importance it constitutes and treated with the same respect as is given to their male counterparts, will achieve fairer media coverage and will have their achievements seen by more people. Therefore your success at the World Cup deserves to be celebrated not only as a great sporting accomplishment but also as an important step towards equality.

While you as players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch on match days, there are many others who play their part as well. I would like to acknowledge the great work carried out by your management team and coaches. I also salute your families, partners and friends for the important role they play in the team’s success. Each individual depends on those closest to them, personally and in sport, to help them through their preparations, and I extend appreciation, on behalf of the people of Ireland, to all of them for their contribution to the strength of this team.  Indeed it is wonderful that so many of them could join us here today.

Is ceart go bhfeictear iad siúd a fhaigheann an deis ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar son a dtír ar an ardán idirnáisiúnta sa spórt mar éacht mór. Rinne sibh amhlaidh le dínit mhór agus is ambasadóirí iontacha sibh d'Éirinn, ag ionadaíocht bhur dtír féin agus bhur spórt le onóir agus le bród, agus chuir sibh go mór le cáil spóirt na hÉireann.

[Those who get the opportunity to represent their country on the international stage in sport rightly see it as a great achievement. You have done so with great dignity and are marvellous ambassadors for Ireland, representing both your country and your sport with honour and pride, and further enhancing Ireland’s sporting reputation]

May I conclude by thanking you all for coming here today, and wishing you every success in all your future endeavours.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.