On Saturday 4 August 2018, just before the first semi-final of the day, the Games Maker Choir (the volunteers) led the Irish spectators as they belted out Ireland’s national anthem, ‘Ireland’s Call’. It was a timely reminder of the unlikely fairy tale story that was developing at the FIH Vitality Women’s World Cup London 2018 as the competition debutants, Ireland had made it through to the semi-finals.
Facing the Green Army was another team who, based on rankings, had not expected to be in the final four. Spain had made their way to the semi-finals with some standout performances, including a tense match in the quarter-finals against Germany.
Kelly Hudson and Michelle (Michi) Meister were the umpires for the semi-final and they recall the atmosphere as the start of the match drew nearer.
What are your abiding memories of the 2018 World Cup?
Michi Meister: ‘My two abiding memories are the fantastic weather – particularly for London – and the absolutely amazing atmosphere in that stadium.
Kelly Hudson: ‘I have incredibly fond memories of that tournament. I think coming in, the group of umpires were really raring to go. A lot of the teams were firing on all cylinders. It was the big World Cup before the FIH pro league kicked off and there was a real buzz about it.
The opening event was on Tower Bridge was incredible and revealing the trophy was also incredible. And the atmosphere in the cauldron of a stadium was also amazing.
What were your feelings on being appointed to that match?
Michi: ‘I was overwhelmed, I was honoured, it was an incredible feeling to be appointed to the semi-final match. I was pleased with the appointment, especially with these two teams because I knew it would be a passionate match that would be fought to the very end.
Kelly: ‘It’s always really important to stay grounded and recognise that it is a privilege to be a part of this. As soon as you get an appointment with teams that had flown through the tournament such as these two had, there was a sense of excitement because it was quite groundbreaking. The umpiring team - in this case Michi and myself and the reserve umpire and video umpire – made sure we were all on the same page and felt very connected.’
What was the atmosphere like as the teams made their way onto the pitch?
Kelly: ‘I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it now. Any time you get a crowd like that it becomes extra special. There were so many fans supporting the Green Army and Spain had their own pockets of supporters who were making themselves heard. It just lifted things to another level. You can’t help but feel really proud.
‘At a moment like that, you are representing your fellow umpires as well as all the umpires who aspire to do an event such as this. You just take a breath and then you are ready for the match itself.’
Do you recall the atmosphere during the match itself, was it more tense than usual or did the teams adapt to the pressure well?
Michi: ‘Both teams were very passionate and would be playing to the end. It was a very close game. Ireland scored quickly but in the end it was 1-1. It was a very exciting, tightly-fought match. There was no time to think about anything except what was happening on the pitch. As soon as the first whistle went, we switched into umpiring mode, knowing that we we needed to be at our best. There was no room for any failure.’
The match then went to shoot out. As an umpire, how do you calm yourself for that moment?
Michi: ‘You are still in game mode when the final hooter goes. You know there is more to come and you know it will be really special because it is one on one and each opportunity is crucial. As an umpire you really have to be ‘on point’. You have a colleague who you can trust, there is a video umpire to fix any mistakes, then you do your thing to provide an outstanding hockey moment.
Kelly: ‘The atmosphere ahead of the shoot-out is a measure of the teams. The best teams will prepare for every moment and every situation. There will be nervous energy because now we are talking about medals and trophies but there is also the feeling that they have to play with freedom to achieve all they want to achieve. This is exactly what both the players and us, as umpires, prepare for.
What were your best moments from that match?
Michi: ‘My best moment was the last shootout in the normal run from Spain’s Lola Riera. It was 2-1 to Ireland when she took her attempt and she was amazing. She picked the ball up and looped it over the goalkeeper. As an umpire, I would have liked to have clapped her, it was so special that in this moment she could have the courage to do that.’
Kelly: ‘If you look at the start of the game and the teams walking out and the emotion of knowing that this was such an exceptional moment for both teams. And then, 60 minutes later, they were still both playing hockey of such an exceptional standard. I think the start of that match was one of my highlights and it was an incredible match to be a part of.’
At the end of the match, Ireland won the shoot-out 3-2 and went on to meet the Netherlands in the final, where they won silver. Spain played Australia in the bronze medal match, winning 3-1 and collecting their first ever World Cup medal.
Watch the full 20-minute interview here.