Chloe Watkins says Ireland’s recent victory over reigning Olympic gold medalists Great Britain is both hugely important and unimportant at the same time as the Green Army mount up for a big summer ahead.
She played a starring role in central midfield as Ireland beat GB for the first time ever, landing a 2-1 success in an overall drawn three-game series, scoring the equalising goal in that tie.
But she is wary of getting too far ahead of herself with a European Championships in June – which doubles as a World Cup qualifier – and the Olympics following six weeks later.
“It was a big scalp for us so that was obviously a huge positive,” she said this week in her role as an FBD ambassador, one of Team Ireland’s (the Olympic Federation of Ireland) sponsors.
“But, at the same time, we are aware it was a friendly series and we are still a couple of months out.
“We are not looking to peak yet and there’s a lot of work and preparation to go. It was a good temperature check after a long period of training to say things are going in the right direction. It’s nice to see things gelling in matches which you have been working on in training. All in all, a positive experience for us.”
Indeed, after precious few international fixtures, it was a relief that things were on track. In a normal year, Ireland’s women could expect to play between 30 and 40 capped fixtures; Watkins has in excess of 200 caps.
As such, with just a January series against Spain under their belt in the past year, there was no idea of what to expect.
“I was apprehensive going into the GB series. I didn’t know where we would stand and often a March series is a tough one because you come off the back of a long training period and there is fatigue.
“You are not necessarily peaking for a tournament so sometimes it can go wrong. It was great to get good results, good performances most importantly and feeling like we controlled things in a way we hadn’t done before against them. We can take that confidence into the next few months.”
It was also the first time the Irish team were seen on the big screen since qualifying for Tokyo back in November 2019.
At the time, they were riding high on the crest of a wave with the 2018 World Cup silver medal also fresh in the mind.
The GB series was live-streamed on both RTE and BBC Northern Ireland with RTE2 carrying one of the games on a Sunday evening; helping to get the wheels back onto the bandwagon after a year training away mainly behind closed doors.
“Publicity is not too much at the front of our minds but we had a lot of momentum from the qualifiers coming into the Olympic run-in in 2020.
“Confidence, interest, excitement was high – all that stuff so getting some of that momentum and generating interest and excitement again in the team is always a good thing. Getting confidence up in the squad in good performances will always help.”
One element will be missing in Tokyo, however, this summer with confirmation no overseas fans can attend. It was such a strong feature of the 2018 World Cup when more than half of the 15,000 Lee Valley Stadium in London was bedecked in green.
“It is hard for them,” Watkins says as her family members have to scrap what plans they had in place.
“This was going to be a high point for them as well as us. From a squad’s perspective, we are happy to be able to go out there and compete. Obviously, [our fans] all wanted to be able to go out there but I have no doubt they will be loud and in full-green from head to toe, finding ways to celebrate at home.”