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5am starts, job sharing, and the ex-Ireland captain Dad helping get pitch ready for Olympic qualifier

Philip Matthews, father of hockey star Hannah Matthews, is among those who are getting Energia Park in order for this weekend.

A MAMMOTH EFFORT has gone into getting Energia Park ready to host a hockey Olympic qualifier between Ireland and Canada this weekend.

a-view-of-the-artificial-pitch-being-laid The pop-up pitch being laid in Energia Park. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The process really began last month when it was announced that the rugby stadium in Donnybrook had been selected to stage the two-legged game over Saturday and Sunday.

From there, Hockey Ireland went about installing a Polytan Carpet pitch over the rugby surface. In short, they were laying out a pop-up pitch for the occasion.

Such a project was conducted at Twickenham Stoop earlier this year to host Great Britain’s FIH Pro League women’s and men’s matches against New Zealand.

The whole enterprise was described by Hockey Ireland CEO, Jerome Pels as “a huge step forward for the sport,” and the pitch was laid out this week ahead of the Olympic double-header.

Family and friends have offered to help put the finishing touches together, including former Ireland rugby captain, Philip Matthews.

His daughter Hannah is part of the Irish side hoping to seal Olympic qualification for the very first time this weekend, and despite specialising in the oval-ball game, he’s happy to get out and lend a hand.

philip-matthews-1991 Former Ireland captain Philip Matthews. Source: ©INPHO

“He’s actually volunteering down there right now,” says Matthews of her father’s support for the Green Army and their Olympic quest.

Yeah [I] got the whole family involved. He thinks it great for the sport. My mum told me they were looking for volunteers so she signed herself up and the rest followed suit.

“I suppose the Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport so it is certainly it is the biggest set of matches we are going to play this year.”

The installation process was completed on Thursday, with Sean Dancer’s charges set to have a training session there before the Canada showdown.

Energia Park is a 6,000-capacity stadium and Ireland will be hoping for a strong home support to roar them to victory throughout the Saturday and Sunday legs.

Ireland’s silver medal finish at last year’s World Cup brings an inherent pressure for the home side ahead of this crunch tie, but Matthews looks beyond all that.

“It is not going to be the nicest place for Canada to come,” she counters.

“There is always going to be the element of pressure anyway just the situation that we’re in and having that amount of people behind us can only help us.

I think we have to relish that. That why we do it. We want to play in high pressure situations. We get a buzz off that so. 

“The support will gear us up and give us momentum in the match. I think it is only a good thing.

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“Every time we got through another round of the World Cup it seemed like a bonus. No one was paying us much attention for a while. So there is that weight of expectation but I think we have grown with the squad and I think we have to deal with that. I think it’s a great test for us.”

RTÉ will be broadcasting both games live on Saturday and Sunday as well. It’s a world away from the match-day atmosphere that Matthews was accustomed to in the past.

“We have never done anything like this in hockey. To be able to get a stadium with a capacity of five or six thousand and for that many people to come and watch is fantastic for the game.

It’s just really nice to sing your anthem not to an empty stadium, which we have done in the past. It actually really means a lot to us that HI and everyone involved have gone to this length.”

Matthews works as a primary school teacher. At the moment, she’s job sharing alongside a partner teacher at Holy Trinity National School in Dublin, which means she works “the back half” of the school week.

That arrangement allows her to focus most of her energy on her international hockey commitments.

The flexibility involved in teaching makes it a popular career choice among athletes, but Matthews insists those benefits never dictated her decision to go down this road. 

hannah-matthews-celebrates-after-the-game Hannah Matthews is job sharing at her primary school. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It was just a career she was interested in pursuing. She knows she’s blessed to get the support she needs from the school, and it also helps that her principal comes from a GAA background.

He loves sport and he understands it. It’s really, really good of him. They saw me driving myself into work after a 5am start and they saw how tired I looked,” she laughs. “I suppose I’m not very good at hiding that. They were aware of the toll it took and they appreciated I was still working hard in school.

“This will be my third year (at the school). There’s not a lot of principals that would have taken me on. So it was really him. And it was before the World Cup that he employed me and allowed me to do that.

“I’m really very fortunate.”

Ireland are chasing history on the specially prepared pop-up pitch in Donnybrook this weekend.

Not only are they hoping to reach their first Olympic Games, they’re also aiming to become Ireland’s first female field sport team to qualify for the Olympics.

There’s plenty at stake for Dancer’s outfit, but Matthews doesn’t appeared to be weighed down by any of it.

It will be an historic moment if it happens. It’s not really something I’ve thought about too much. It was the same with the World Cup last year.

“It was only after we qualified for the semi-final I realised the enormity of it and it was historic but I wouldn’t get too bogged down in those things. There’s enough to think about.”

- Originally published at 07.45

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