It’s been quite the year for Hockey Wales. A year filled with firsts and lasts, Welsh hockey has featured on the world stage like never before in 2023, with Women’s and Men’s senior sides, and our Youth sides, doing Wales proud.
The senior women’s side endured difficult spells over 2023, but made significant progress culminating in a positive showing at the European Championships II in August.
Soon after the squad had been announced for 2023, Easter Weekend saw the ladies travel to Edinburgh for a friendly series against Scotland where a few had their first taste at this level. Following two defeats to the Scots by 6-0 and 3-1 scorelines, the final game ended in a goalless draw.
June brought with it a trip to South America for the women’s side, as Wales travelled to Uruguay for the Tri-Nations Series. Opening with a 2-2 draw against Chile, Wales went on to lose their next two before rallying to conclude with a 1-1 draw with the hosts.
And that all proved good preparation for a trip to Prague for the European Championships II. Wales drew with Austria, lost to the Czech Republic and earned a commanding 5-0 victory over Lithuania before eventually securing Bronze at the tournament courtesy of a nail-biting 3-0 penalty shootout win over Ukraine.
It was an exciting year for Men’s hockey in Wales, as 2023 kicked off with the nation’s first ever appearance at a Men’s Hockey World Cup.
Defeats to England, Spain and India in the Frist Round meant Wales into the Classification Round with a highest possible finish of ninth. The Men subsequently got their first ever World Cup win with a 2-1 penalty shootout victory against France and went on to secure an 11th-placed finish after losing to Argentina in their final game.
It wouldn’t be until the summer that Wales’ men would be back in action, as they came up against Ireland in a Test Series. The Welsh built on a promising World Cup debut to win the first Test 2-0, although were left disappointed as they followed that up with 5-2 and 3-0 defeats to round off the Series.
Wales were back in action soon enough with the arrival of the EuroHockey Championships in August – an event which would produce an unforgettable moment for the Welsh.
The Men opened their account in the competition with a monumental result, holding World Champions and tournament hosts Germany to a remarkable 3-3 daw. They were unable to capitalise on that glorious moment, however, as defeats to France, Netherlands, Austria and finally Spain brought an end Wales’ tournament.
There was also some great action for our National Age Group Sides, with both the Girls and Boys providing hope for the future.
The action started for our U18s with a stern test against England in May where, against quality opposition, both sides showed development and improvement within a short space of time.
It was a difficult couple of outings for the Girls, coming off 5-0 losers in the first tie but managing to get themselves on the scoresheet in a 5-1 second time out.
The Boys’ side fell to a 3-1 defeat in their first game but improved to lead the way in their second match, although ultimately fell to a 3-2 defeat in the final quarter.
That all led the way to an exciting U18 EuroHockey Championships II held in Swansea two months later.
The Girls’ side impressed in Swansea, despite a 3-0 defeat to Poland to open proceedings. Following that result, Wales managed 4-0 and 5-3 victories over Turkey, as well as a 1-1 draw with Poland in the reverse fixture.
The Boys’ side provided positive signs within their mixed bag of results. Alongside a 2-1 defeat to Switzerland and a 5-2 defeat to the Czech Republic, came a 1-1 draw with Italy and 4-1 thrashing of Lithuania.
To go with the beginnings of a few international careers over 2023, were of course the conclusions of a few.
Over the course of the year, Wales said farewell to some sensational servants in the game.
On the Men’s side, Lewis Prosser announced his retirement after receiving his last cap 15 years after his first. With appearances at three Commonwealth Games, seven Europeans and captaining Wales to their historic first appearance at the Hockey World Cup, his 180 caps and service to Welsh hockey won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Neither will that of the legendary Leah Wilkinson, who this year called it time on an unforgettable career. An Olympic Bronze Medallist with Team GB at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and an appearance-maker at four Commonwealth Games and countless European Championships, Leah boasts an unmatched 204 international caps, making her Wales’ most-capped sportsperson of all time.
Also hanging up their sticks from the Women’s senior side this year were Julie Read, who first appeared for the senior team at just 17, Sian French, who captained her country at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and Rose Thomas, who earned herself three Goalkeeper of the Tournament accolades during her career as well as 89 caps for her country.