Making the choice between football or hockey was a tough call at the age of 14 for Shona McCallin, but looking back now, the England and Great Britain midfielder has no regrets.
She said: “Since making my debut for the senior squads [Great Britain in 2013 and England in 2014], we have won European gold and Olympic gold, that’s not too bad,” she laughs.
Speaking to Shona, the first thing that strikes you is that if anyone personifies a gold medal winner it is this 24 year old. “After a really hard training session I don’t feel down, I feel really satisfied that I have pushed myself that hard, I always want to push myself harder and harder. Our strength and conditioning coach said to me ‘people don’t realise just how hard you can push your body,’ and he is right. Since joining the senior squad I have seen my team mates push themselves to extraordinary levels, day after day.”
Shona made her debut for the Great Britain senior squad against Germany in a three nation tournament and then was sidelined for much of 2014 with an ankle injury. This meant she missed out on the 2014 Hockey World Cup and the 2014 Commonwealth Games but she bounced back in December of that year and played for England in the Hockey Champions Trophy in Mendoza.
“2014 was a strange year,” she says. It is a classic understatement. England had a dreadful time in the 2014 Hockey World Cup, starting as one of the teams likely to win a medal and then crashing out in 11th position. Six weeks later they were eight seconds from winning a first Commonwealth gold medal, only to lose on shoot-out to Australia.
“It is a measure of the temperament and mental strength of the players in our team,” says Shona. “The World Cup was obviously a very difficult time but we knew that we hadn’t become a bad team overnight. To bounce back for the Commonwealth Games was a measure of the resilience, although that final against Australia was heartbreaking.”
Shona knows all too well the heartache of last minute losses. She was captain of the England team that contested the 2013 Hockey Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany and, like England at the Commonwealth Games, the team was on the verge of a historic first medal.
“We had suffered a 5-0 loss to Spain in our second match,” she recalls. “We should never have lost that. Then we bounced back with a 7-1 win over Belgium, followed by a 2-1 win over the host nation Germany.”
A quarter final against Australia saw England continue winning ways against a side that, on paper, was much stronger. “They had about 30 shots and we scored from one of our few attacks,” she says. Next up was Argentina and again, England made the most of their chances, scoring three goals from three penalty corners. The bronze medal match was against India – a side who had been surprising everyone.
“That is one of the good things about the Junior World Cup,” says Shona. “It gives you a chance to play teams who have very different styles.”
The match itself was very even and at full-time the sides couldn’t be separated, so it went to sudden death penalty shoot out.
“India’s first player had missed and it was my turn,” says Shona. “I remember walking to the circle trying to blot out the fact that we were on the verge of winning England’s first medal.”
This was not to be Shona or England’s day. The skipper hit the post and the next Indian player scored. “It was heart-breaking but looking back, it was a fantastic experience. We were a tight group with no star players. We just all worked really hard for each other.”
Looking ahead to this year’s event, Shona says the same ethos will be driving England forward. “Craig [Keegan], the coach, is great at both motivating his players and tactics. He knows the value of a happy, close knit team.”
The players to watch in Chile will be those players who have returned to the junior ranks following Olympic duties with the senior squad. Shona singles out two Australians, Mariah Williams and Grace Stewart, as “two big talents.”
For this talented midfielder, the Hockey World Cup and the Commonwealth Games are the next targets for her rapidly growing collection of gold medals.
Follow Shona on Twitter: @SMcCallin