"Itís brilliant to feel tested every session. I feel lucky to have the opportunity"

Leah Wilkinson
Leah Wilkinson had to wait for longer than most to get her opportunity to represent Great Britain but now she is determined to make the most of it.

Having played 169 times for Wales –becoming the country’s most capped team sport athlete of all time during 2019 – the defender made her Great Britain debut in October against India.

She has since gone on to help GB qualify for Tokyo 2020, made her FIH Hockey Pro League debut against Australia last weekend and looks set to have a big part to play with the team this year.

Despite numerous calls over the years for her to be given a chance, Wilkinson herself never particularly expected the call up.

But having joined the full-time women’s programme late last year, she now says she’s being able to really push herself to compete with and against the world’s best.

“I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet,” the 33-year-old said. 

“A lot of people said it was a long time coming but as I said before it was something I expected to happen. I wasn’t thinking ‘I should be good enough, I should be in this set up’ etc. I just thought that if I kept plugging away and trying to become a consistent performer that maybe I would get an opportunity. 

“A couple of years ago I didn’t think that opportunity would happen again so it’s quite surreal to be here now. Even now when I’m walking to the bus to go to a game and I’m in a GB t-shirt, I’m a bit like ‘this is weird’. 

“At this stage in my hockey career it’s nice to have an opportunity to be pushed one last time. This is obviously a step up and often people at the end of their career don’t always have that kind of challenge but I definitely feel like I’m having that right now.

“It’s brilliant to feel tested every session, to be on top of my game all the time, to learn new tactics and new techniques. I feel very lucky to have that opportunity.”

The first match against Australia was also the first time Wilkinson pulled on the GB shirt alongside fiancé Sarah Jones.

Even though they have played alongside each other for Wales and club teams for such a long time, the Holcombe player knows it was a moment that they will treasure for many years to come, especially as they had to wait for it.

“We only spoke about it really afterwards but obviously it was a really special moment,” she said. 

“When I first got involved with the GB programme, Sarah had her illness so she wasn’t really around. As a result for the first few months I was there without her, which was really good for me as it meant I had to go out and push myself outside my comfort zone. 

“A few people sent us pictures of the line up and the anthem saying it’s something for us to remember for the future. I think it will be but it will be something for us to reflect on when we’ve retired in a few years as opposed to now.”

However even though they now train and play together nearly every day of the week, in some ways Wilkinson and Jones see a little less of each other than they had done before.

The Wales captain also knows that there is the potential for things to get a little tricky with regards to selection but she is confident that no matter what, they will be there to support one another through thick and thin.

“People say you must spend every moment together but when we’re at Bisham we don’t necessarily do everything together – we’re not in the same position or groups – so actually some days we won’t see each other all day,” she explained

“But we are very lucky to be able to have that together so we can talk about it and reflect on things. 

“It obviously has its difficulties as well. Over the next few months we’ve got many selections and things like that so I’m sure there’s going to be many challenges ahead. 

“But if someone’s had a bad day on the pitch or something difficult has happened the other person will be there to help them through. But that’s what it’s like with people who have different jobs. We’re coping at the moment so fingers crossed!”

Great Britain return to FIH Hockey Pro League action this weekend. The men take on New Zealand at 4am and 2am GMT on Saturday and Sunday respectively, with the women in action at 6:30am and 4:30am GMT on those days. All games will be available to watch on BT Sport.

FIH Pro League 2020 - Four Day Passes and Season Tickets

The FIH Hockey Pro League returns to London this summer for four weekends of high octane action. Find out more, including how to secure your tickets, by clicking here.