Celebrations for the 50th birthday of the Sport Wales National Centre started with a bang as Wales Hockey Men qualified for the World Cup for the first time in their history at Sophia Gardens last weekend.
Wales clinched their seats on the plane to India for the 2023 World Cup with a semi-final shootout victory over neighbours Ireland on Saturday. The icing on the birthday cake was defeating France 2-1 in the final to win the whole tournament.
It’s been a long time coming for Welsh Hockey who have had to wait 38 years since the women’s team last qualified for the World Cup in 1983.
Ria Burrage-Male amassed 33 senior caps for Wales Women and is now CEO at Hockey Wales. She praised the team and the organisation for their landmark achievement.
“Hockey Wales and the Men have been on an incredible journey over the last few years and achieving a place in the World Cup is testament to the efforts of all involved.
“In 6 years, they have moved from 36th to 15th in the World Rankings and have now qualified for a World Cup, all with limited resources”
“We hope this elevates the Men and provides a platform for us to showcase the sport and inspire people to get involved in Hockey. As a player, coach, committee member, official or a fan.”
The feat was made even sweeter by clinching their spot in India 2023 in front of a sell-out home crowd at Sophia Gardens – and on the 50th birthday of the National Centre.
“Playing in front of a home crowd is magical; winning in front of a crowd is unexplainable.” Ria said.
“The Men have not played in front of a home crowd for some time. The warmth and voice of the crowd certainly lifted the players. There was a real buzz in the build-up and during the event.
“When the shootout was taking place, it was unbelievably tense but the moment we secured the qualification, the whole place went electric”
Having worked at the Sport Wales National Centre for 44 of those 50 years, Assistant Operations Manager, Wayne Jenkins, can’t recall anything quite like it.
“There was an amazing atmosphere around the place. When Wales beat Ireland and qualified for the World Cup, the noise from the crowd was the loudest, I have ever heard in 44 years working the National Centre.”