Plenty of pain and gain for brave Bermuda
When it comes to the toughest sports in the world, field hockey may not come to mind for the casual sports fan, but make no mistake, the propensity for pain is real.
With hard sticks and balls flying everywhere, the sport is risky business and it takes a special kind of courage to come charging off the goalline when defending a penalty corner.
But for Bermuda defensive pair Keishae Robinson and Taylor Mullan, who were part of a back-line who conceded only one field goal during the Central American and Caribbean Games qualifiers this month, the risks are worth it.
At the tournament in Jamaica, they felt that physical pain first-hand. Robinson was hit by a ball on her right foot defending a penalty corner in the 1-0 third-place play-off defeat by Puerto Rico on November 12. Mullan was left bleeding from her right shin after being whacked by an opposing stick in Bermuda's 4-0 win over Panama on November 8.
Mullan, 17, said: “[My opponent] was coming down her right side and I was flat, then she made it to the corner and she went to hit the ball into the D, completely missed it and her stick dug into my shin.
“I was just going to walk it off, because it didn't really hurt, and all of a sudden I hear Keish go ‘Tay, Tay'. I look down and there's blood squirting out of my sock! So then I drop to the ground and she had to pick me up and carry me off the pitch.
“I wasn't crying yet, but as soon as our physio said: ‘She's out, she's out', I was like: ‘Oh my goodness, I can't play the rest of the tournament. I only played one game of my first tournament and what is the point of my coming here?'
“I was so upset, but then the coach said: ‘OK, T, you're playing' and I was thanking him. Then I had to get stitches so I could play the rest of the tournament.
“I think there was a lot of adrenalin, because while I was sitting in the physio tent I could hear my team-mates, because we scored four goals when I was in the tent and I could hear [the cheers], and I was like: ‘Go team, go'! I wasn't even paying attention to what they were doing [in the tent].”
Robinson's injury epitomised the spirit of a team who battled against the odds to finish fourth after recording that win over Panama and another 4-0 success over Guatemala.
“Last game, last two minutes I got struck in the foot twice from short corners,” Robinson said.
“She was shooting at goal and I was in the way. So I just threw everything behind the ball. Anything but a goal, that's the motto.
“I was limping for a couple of days and went to the hospital when I came back, but there was no fracture, just a bone bruise, but everything's fine.”
The considered opinion is that Bermuda were the better team in the early stages of every game they played against teams who mostly have more funding and experience. Indeed Josefina Freaney, the captain of third-placed Puerto Rico and player of the tournament, intimated as much.
“There were so many other teams complimenting us, saying we had such a fighting spirit and how well we played,” Robinson said. “It was just unfortunate, the results that we got.”
The fundraising the team had to do fostered a strong team bond, that came to fruition with some solid performances in Jamaica.
“We did a lot of fundraisers,” Robinson said.
“We're a close-knit team for sure. We do everything together, pretty much.
“Not to say we're fighting harder, but we really wanted to go and make it happen, so we did everything in our power to make sure we got there.
Mullan added: “For the whole year we were together four times a week. We wanted to prove everyone wrong, that even though we don't have what other teams have, we can still compete.”
There was also a strong spirit between the countries, with Bermuda staying at the same hotel as Guyana, the eventual tournament winners who virtually ended Bermuda's automatic qualification hopes by beating them 3-0 in their penultimate round-robin game.
“There was tension before, but when they came home with the big trophy we were all cheering for them,” Mullan said.
“A few were hanging out with us at the hotel as well and were pretty nice.”
Robinson, 28, is adamant that the team have immense promise.
“I think the sky's the limit,” she said. “I see so much potential and growth.
“I play with a lot of them for Budgies and just seeing them grow from two years ago to now, there's such a huge difference. From confidence to skills, everything. So I think everyone should stick together, try to keep growing and playing in as many tournaments as possible.
“That's our downfall, as Bermuda, that we don't get to play in as many tournaments as other national teams. If we play in more, our success will continue to grow.
“Funding's an issue for sure, so more help from sponsorships, government, whoever would be helpful, but we all want it so much that we would continue to do the fundraising ourselves if that's what it takes to get to where we want to be.”
Mullan says the help from her more experienced team-mates, such as Robinson, is invaluable.
“They're amazing,” she said. “They'll help you with anything, there's no harsh comments. Everything they say is constructive criticism. That's why in Jamaica, it was so helpful.
“Keishae was in the back and was like: ‘Tay, move left, move right' and it made it so much easier, especially to play most of the tournament.
“It was such a blessing to have her tell me to go exactly where I needed to be, exactly what I needed to do.”
Mullan is excited about the future of this Bermuda team.
“We have an amazing team and I don't want to lose the connection we have made over the last year, so I think we should just keep playing together,” she said.
As for her injury, Mullan is over the worst and ploughing through.
“The injury's fine now, it's just the pressure that hurts,” she said. “To play, I put styrofoam underneath my shin pad and hope nobody hits it!”