The great defender: Anna Flanagan, 23, hockey player
I really enjoyed athletics, tennis and hockey growing up. And I was determined to go to the Olympics in all three. At least until I was about 15 or 16, then I had to pick one. Tennis and athletics are a very difficult road to go down. I was better at hockey – my whole family plays it – and in the end I chose it because of the team aspect.
In tennis, once you’re a mid-teenager, you’re up against people who were homeschooled. I just couldn’t compete. I was still able to do my schooling and have a balanced life, but be really competitive in hockey. And ever since watching the 2000 Olympics, all I wanted was a gold medal, and to be one of the best in the world.
Hockey can be so fast it’s difficult to follow on television. Even for players, some things you actually just can’t see, because it’s happening so quickly. Whereas live, I think it’s a different story – it’s so exciting, and so skilful. That’s maybe where women’s sport on television comes across better, because it’s a little bit slower.
The game has changed to make it more spectator friendly. We’ve got a play-on rule now, we’ve got quarters, which is very new. The challenge now for the international federation is to get new people involved who haven’t traditionally been exposed to hockey.
I didn’t have a real sense of big crowds until the 2012 London Olympics. I guess my first taste of it was when I was 18 and got a late call-up to Comm Games – and even then we didn’t have many people because there was a terror threat in Delhi at that stage. But in London you were walking out to 20,000 people. It’s really hard to prepare mentally for that kind of thing. Especially when you’re used to having a few hundred in the crowd.
It was unbelievable, but at the same time very nerve-racking. New Zealand scored against us in the first few minutes of our first game. Looking back, that goal was the reason why we didn’t make a semi-final five days later. It’s probably something we really have to prepare a lot better for, and work harder on. You can’t compare it to anything else. It’s an amazing, surreal experience, one that’s very really hard to explain.
The hockey fans are crazy in Holland. And even crazier in Argentina. They really love their hockey and they’re so passionate. In Holland they’re respectful, but at the same time the postman knows your name. The fans dress up for games. While in Argentina, if you get too close to the fence, you get grabbed. People were pushing kids out of the way, grown adults trying to get our photos. All of that stuff is quite bizarre.
I’m not afraid of the ball. Not at all. You’ve got shin pads, you’ve got a mouthguard. I guess when someone’s lining up, you know they can hit a rocket, so there’s probably an element of respect. Most of our injuries don’t come from getting hit: we get ACLs, we get plantar fasciitis, and all the niggly muscle injuries. It’s very rare that there are broken bones.
We had to do a lot of soul searching to get back to world No. 1. We’ve been working really hard on our culture, on and off the pitch, since the London Games. And it has made us all very close. We talk about the worst things that have ever happened to us, build trust within the group, as well as giving really honest feedback. At times it is quite uncomfortable. But it’s something that everyone has to abide by to be in our group.
Everyone knows Georgie Parker and I are best friends from social media.
I live with her. She’s hilarious. But also I’m a defender and she’s an attacker, so we really push each other to get better, and be that athlete we have to be at home as well as on the field. We’re not allowed to room together anymore though. We end up talking all night.
I studied journalism. What would journalist me ask hockey player me? Probably: “How do you get by training full-time, where as a semi-professional we don’t work, but we don’t get paid like the major sports?” I think that’s something I’d be interested in.
The answer? For me, I work really hard off the field, building my own brand as well as promoting hockey. Through social media, through writing, through blogging, doing work experience, to try to get sponsorship that will fund my dream. And that’s not what everyone wants to do. So I think for some of the girls it is more difficult.
This week’s highlights…
• NRL: Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Saturday, 3pm (AEST), GIO Stadium, Canberra
• Soccer: International Champions Cup – Real Madrid v AS Roma
Saturday, 7pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground
• AFL: Sydney Swans v Hawthorn
Saturday, 7.20pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney
• Rugby Championship: Wallabies v Springboks
Saturday, 8.05pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
• Cricket: Women’s Ashes ODIs – England v Australia
Tuesday, 7.45pm (AEST), The County Ground, Taunton, England
Thursday, 7.45pm (AEST), Bristol County Ground, England
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 18, 2015 as "The great defender". Subscribe here.