Kate Richardson-Walsh: The Olympic gold medallist now plotting GB's downfall

Kate Richardson-Walsh with her gold medal
Kate Richardson-Walsh, gold medal winner at Rio with Great Britain, has taken a sabbatical from coaching Hampstead & Westminster to assist Danny Kerry - Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Nearly nine years ago, then captain Kate Richardson-Walsh led Great Britain women’s hockey team to a first tournament success by winning all seven of their matches for the first time in Valencia. Victory sealed Olympic qualification for Rio and now she is back at the same venue, hoping to put a dent in GB’s passage to Paris.

In a delicious sub-plot to the FIH Olympic qualifiers, Richardson-Walsh is now assistant coach at Canada women alongside head coach Danny Kerry, architect of GB women’s success at the Rio Olympics. The pair will line up with the world No 16 underdogs against GB in the opening match on Saturday.

“I probably thought more of the external gaze, that people on the outside will be interested in that story,” Richardson-Walsh said of the draw. “But for us it’s one of the teams we have to play.

“People have asked how I feel about it. Unless something miraculous happens or when the anthems start playing, it’s just another international game that we are preparing for.”

GB, aiming for a third successive Olympic medal this summer, should get their campaign off to a winning start before further group matches against hosts Spain and Malaysia in the eight-strong tournament. Only the top three will qualify for this summer’s Games.

When Richardson-Walsh, who has taken leave from her role as Hampstead & Westminster coach, and Kerry first linked up last June, the pair worked hard on both personality profiling and self awareness testing of each other.

GB women's hockey team celebrate
GB beat Netherlands in the 2016 Olympic final - Julian Simmonds for The Telegraph

“We have seen each other at our best and worst over the years and that has helped in this new working relationship,” said Richardson-Walsh.

“I’ve not worked with him since 2016 when I was a player. It’s been great to get to know him through his experiences in the time I’ve now been with him and how he has developed as a coach.”

‘Canada are a really resilient and resourceful bunch’

An England side featuring many of the current GB squad only beat Canada 1-0 at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, while Kerry’s side seem to relish their part-time status which has seen them crowdfund their way to tournaments in recent years.

“We try to see the opportunities that come out of it,” said Kerry, staying in the same hotel when he was GB men’s coach, a role he left in 2022. “They are a really resilient and resourceful bunch and I enjoy being around those qualities.”

Although they last qualified for the Olympics at Barcelona 1992, Canada reached the 2022 World Cup after a 28-year absence and finished a best-ever fifth at the Commonwealth Games.

Richardson-Walsh adds: “If you think of the most consistent teams, take the Dutch women, who frankly should have a Netflix programme made about them, they’ve had good players but they do well as a team. Consistency relies on a team effort and everybody feeling that they belong in a team.

“That was already there with Canada women when we came in. They are eager to learn, hungry and everything you want as a coach they have.

Players of Britain celebrate after beatring China in the women's Field Hockey World League final match between China and Britain at Virgen del Carmen-Betero sport complex in Valencia
GB sealed their passage to Rio in Valencia in 2015 – now Richardson-Walsh tries to stand in their way - EPA/KAI FOERSTERLING

“There are also very few women at the top of international hockey as a coach or assistant coach. I am really proud to be on that shortlist group who are coaching at elite level.”

Kerry’s first camp began last April, while he has since travelled back and forth from the UK to Canada. “It’s been great working with Kate in a different capacity as coach and coach,” said Kerry. “We are a good team. Kate’s strength and my strengths aren’t the same but I’ve enjoyed putting those two to good use.”

Given that he shunned the limelight, sat down and plotted a mind map path to Tokyo the morning after Team GB’s heroics in Rio, he will have racked up the hours this week finding GB’s current weak points.

“In some ways, I was trying to decompress and simulate it all. I’m not the kind of person to go parading around and giving it the big ‘I am’,” he recalled of the Rio success.

And the hard-working Kerry naturally refrained from delving deeply into the GB encounter. “I was conscious of not making a big thing of it with the athletes and it’s just another game,” he admitted.

Meanwhile, GB’s Anna Toman said they were only focusing on their opponents on the field.

“They will know alot about us and we know Danny’s strengths as a tactician,” she told The Top of the D podcast. “They are the coaches and not the ones on the pitch, and we aren’t getting sucked into the drama.”

GB men, meanwhile, are also competing for Paris qualification and play Pakistan in their first match on Monday in Muscat.

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