Often quoted as being Australian hockey’s poster girl, Anna Flanagan had the world at her feet when, in the spring of 2016, it came to light that she’d been convicted of drink driving. 2016 was a big year for hockey, with the Champion’s Trophy in June, followed six weeks later by the Rio Olympics.
On the advice of her solicitor she didn’t declare it but that was to be her undoing as she was dropped from the Champion’s Trophy squad and her Olympic place was severely in doubt.
She was eventually allowed to travel with the Squad to Brazil but only as a non-playing reserve. Since then, Anna has been through a rollercoaster of a year, and it speaks volumes that the 25 year-old is now getting back to where she belongs.
We caught up with Anna to ask her about the past year and a bit and find out what the future now looks like.
You went to Rio as a reserve. How difficult was it be there but not participate?
“It was extremely difficult to watch. I had to train the whole way through in case someone got injured, whilst trying to stay positive and help out the girls where needed. In saying that I don’t think a day went by without tears. It is a dream to play at the Olympics so being on the side-lines was one of the toughest experiences as an athlete”.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned whilst being away from the game?
“That I need balance in my life if I am to perform at my best. For me this has been to follow my other passion in the media”.
The Summer of 2016 was heart-breaking for Anna, and at 24 there was a lot of anguish to deal with for such a young girl, so it was no surprise when she announced in November that she’d been suffering from depression and needed a break.
You’ve been very brave and open about your mental health issues. What would your advice be to people who are maybe suffering in silence?
“My advice would be that you aren’t alone. Mental illness impacts so many people and it is really hard to try get through it yourself. I think opening up and breaking down the stigma that it’s ‘weak’ is really important. Because it takes a lot of courage to share how you are doing. The more I have spoken about it, the easier it has been to overcome and find my happiness”.
You’ve had a really tough year haven’t you? How have you managed to stay motivated and keep looking ahead?
“I have actually had a really positive and fabulous 2017. 2016 was very difficult, as was documented in the media. But this year I have moved state, found new relationships and started working. This has ignited my love of hockey again and I feel lucky that I have been able to have this time to find myself again”.
The door has been opened again for a return to the Hockeyroos, tell us about that.
“It was never fully closed for me. I knew the coaching staff wanted me to take time off to be happy, and that hockey would take care of itself. This was really refreshing and so I was able to train in a different environment and reassess what I really wanted. I know now that I will not have regrets if I do not make it. I still want to be one of the best players in the world, and will do everything in my power to do so. But if I do not get selected, I will be ok”.
You’re only 25, so have a great chance to put the last year behind you. What are your short-term goals?
“To be selected in the Hockeyroos squad, play my first international in a year and be in the Commonwealth Games and World Cup team next year”.
And what do you see as your longer-term goals?
“Long term I would like to go to two more Olympic games. I may also play another sport. But I have always wanted a long international career”.
Australia have slipped in the world rankings over the last year but have a squad in transition. We asked Anna what excites her about the latest group of players and how long she thought it would be before they hit top gear?
“Yes, the group is really young, and there is so much raw talent. The new coaching environment is really positive and it is moving in a good direction. I think it will take some time to climb up the rankings, as it takes a while to develop a world class culture, but you never know what can happen in 6-12 months’ time”.
What have you been doing to keep your fitness up?
“I train 6 days a week with hockey. I am at the NSW institute of sport and have a full program there. I do gym twice, 2 conditioning, 5 hockey sessions and a match”.
You mentioned that you may take up another sport. If you hadn’t have played hockey, what do you think you would have done?
“Probably athletics or tennis. I played both of these sports at a national level before I had to pick hockey. I miss competing in both, however I love team sports.
Finally, Anna, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Stay in the moment”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I think she has shown such a brave determination for one so young, and considering she’s already won 2 commonwealth golds as well as silver in the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy in 2014, you wouldn’t back against her to add plenty more to that.
I personally can’t wait to see this girl back in the international spotlight and wish her all the best for the future. Thanks for your time, Anna.