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Hockey: Ralph inspired by team spirit

Catriona Ralph realised what it meant to be part of a Commonwealth Games when Chris Hoy sat down to have breakfast with her.

Catriona Ralph can't wait for the Scotland v England clash   Photograph: Steve Cox
Catriona Ralph can't wait for the Scotland v England clash Photograph: Steve Cox

Ralph is a team player - she is due to win her 156th cap for Scotland's women's hockey side against Ireland in Glasgow today - but being part of the wider Team Scotland is particularly special for her.

Brought up in Newlands and now living in Renfrew, the 30-year-old Clydesdale Western defender knows what hosting the Games means for Glasgow. Having been part of the 2006 Games in Melbourne and Delhi four years ago, she has fond memories of previous events.

"I was lucky in that Mark, who is now my husband, represented Scotland at hockey in Melbourne as well, so for both of us to be at a Games together was good," she recalls. "By the time we both went to Delhi we were married so it made it special to share those memories with him.

"You are away with hockey so often but I think the team element - being part of Team Scotland - makes you much more aware. When we get out to a Games and it's a multi-sport event, we're not just thinking about hockey and men's hockey but about how the swimmers and the boxers are doing. You just get behind everyone and that's what makes the Games so special. We do become such a close team, not just in hockey but in all sports.

"One of my most prominent memories was when I went to Melbourne and I was one of the youngest in the squad. I went for breakfast one morning and Chris Hoy popped up next to me getting his Rice Krispies. He said good morning and I was blown away. To think he was part of the same team as me was incredible. So that was pretty special."

Ralph, who works as a physiotherapist at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, has enjoyed the luxury of being a full-time player along with the rest of the squad in recent weeks thanks to more funding. It will leave the team better prepared and, away from the pitch, head coach Gordon Shepherd has arranged for the squad to spend a day with the Royal Marines at Faslane this month, to give them a different perspective and help with team bonding.

"We've been full-time since April and that's been a huge benefit," Ralph said. "There's just more quality in what we're doing and better rest and recovery. We're able to fine tune things a bit better. Over the winter, it was a hard slog; training before and after work was pretty tough. When you're working full-time you can't take anything for granted. Your time-management has to be meticulous to fit everything in.

"Now, having more free time, you find things such as nutrition are better as you are able to prepare your meals in advance. You also get better sleep as you're not burning the candle at both ends and that's helped me. I definitely don't feel fatigued through training and you're getting more out of your sessions."

The Games cannot come soon enough for Ralph with all matches sold out, but the Scotland v England clash on July 30 will be particularly tasty. "We played them last year at the Europeans and we were very disappointed to lose 2-1. We put in an amazing performance; we just weren't clinical enough in front of goal," she says. "There's no love lost in a Scotland v England match and that's the way it's always been. There are a few of our girls who are also part of the GB set-up so it does change the dynamics but not the rivalry."

Roddy Mackenzie

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