"I’d seen Tokyo as being the end for me" - Daly keeping the fire burning
2020 was supposed to be Nicci Daly's swansong.
After a lifetime built around making it to the Olympic Games, she finally reached her promised land and Tokyo 2020 was to be her day in the sun. From there, she'd be content with her 190 caps for the Irish women's hockey team and could, all going well, bow out at peace.
"I’d seen Tokyo as being the end for me," the 20x20 ambassador says at the conclusion of the AIG Show Skills competition.
"I suppose you spend your whole career waiting for an Olympic Games and for us, we waited a long time. We were at such a strong point in our programme training-wise, we were really starting to peak from March and April..."
Everything was going to plan. Defeating Canada in that Olympic qualifier last November was one of the most emotional moments of her life. The preparation was ramping up, the hype and excitement were building...Until the spanner of all spanners was thrown into the works.
"It's been a year since we've qualified. You're looking forward to that moment when the Olympic Games is going to come around but we couldn't have anticipated for this to happen and I don't think anyone could," she says of the pandemic which forced the games' and the dreams' postponement.
"It was definitely tough to take at the time, but now that we're back in training and we're getting a little extended period of time to prepare and get ready, it's been quite nice.
"So, we started a tough training block in September and we're kind of ramping it up now. Come January, we hope to try and replicate the programme we had in place this January and get to actually fulfil it next year.
"It's been a tough couple of months for everyone and I think we've managed to adapt and now that we're able to keep training, that's where we want to be for now until the Olympics..."
You'd think, that at 32 and as one of the team's stalwarts, the last thing Daly would have wanted was another year of intense training - maybe it was the last thing she wanted - but she's got on with it and true to style, she's making the most of the hand she's been dealt.
"It was tough. The first lockdown, it took a while to get that information around; what was happening with the Olympics. So to keep doing that training on your own was tough.
As proud sponsors of the @20x20_ie campaign we asked women, young & old, from all over Ireland to #ShowYourSkills by sending us their best skill video and we were delighted with the results!!#EffortIsEqual #CantSeeCantBe @LadiesFootball @dublinladiesg @CamogieDublin pic.twitter.com/9HtcS4INpB
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"And when we didn't really know what was going to happen, it was hard to stay motivated. But now that we've gotten some positive messages coming from the Olympic council and Japan, in the sense that they are preparing for an Olympics, Covid or no Covid. That kind of reassures us, and again, just motivates you even more to keep going and keep pushing.
"It was a welcome bit of a break too actually even though we were gearing up for the Olympics. It was a nice time to just stop. I do remember just going for walks in my local area and thinking, this is just nice now to be able to switch off from everything. I probably have a bit of an overdrive in me where I try do as much as I can in a short space of time. But it was a good time to reflect and sort of plan a bit. More time to plan for the Olympics etc. You know, I’m getting a bit older, how do I manage the mental, physical, emotional rollercoaster that that all brings."
Now the team have a new manager in Daly's former teammate Lisa Jacobs, and all roads are finally, leading to Tokyo.
"I think the news that Lisa is coming is great. She's been around the squad for the last month or so, and Lisa's been in the environment, she's played for Ireland over 100 times. She knows what it's like. She's coached, she's been around teams for a long time.
"Arlene (Boyles) brought so much to the team, not just as a manager but [as a] mentor, and all her experience of playing. Lisa will be able to bring something a little bit different, also that experience of playing. But she's obviously got experience in high performance roles and working with hockey squads in the performance side so I think it's going to be a great addition to the team and really looking forward to Lisa getting more involved with us."