NZ move the best decision for career
IT WAS one of the biggest decisions of Grace O'Hanlon's life.
The Maryborough product had already made one life- changing move, when in 2015 she relocated to Perth to try to crack the Hockeyroos.
While she benefitted from elite training, she found herself well down Hockey Australia's pecking order.
So, in December, 2016, she travelled to New Zealand and trialled for the Black Sticks, for whom she qualified through her father.
O'Hanlon made the cut.
"It's been 12 months now and it's been sublime. Spectacular," she said.
"I was nervous when I first got on the plane wondering if I made the right choice.
"When I first came over I really wasn't sure what to expect. I had my expectation as low as I possibly could. I don't regret it whatsoever."
History shows she needn't have worried too much.
The 25-year-old made 17 appearances for the Black Sticks in a hugely successful 2017, during which she was one of two goalkeepers, alongside 147-game veteran Sally Rutherford, in the top 24-player squad.
She made her Black Sticks debut in a tough trip to Argentina in February.
"That was a really exciting moment, even though we got pasted," O'Hanlon said.
"Between that and second at the Hockey World League.
"We had a poor start, lost all of our pool matches, but beat the world number four - it was an upset win against Argentina - then beat England to reach the final.
"Nobody expected us to be there but we did it."
A key driver of the Black Sticks' success, O'Hanlon said, was New Zealand's love of all things sport.
The nation may be small - it's the 75th largest in the world based on land size, and 120th based on its estimated 4.8 million population - but the support it has for national sporting teams is unparalleled.
"If there's a game, they're all about it," she said. "It's so supportive, it's a big family."
One of biggest tests came at Sydney's Oceania Cup in October, when O'Hanlon lined up against Australia for the first time.
Australia won both game, including the final, but the fixtures held a much more important meaning for the former St Mary's College student.
it reaffirmed that she made the right decision to cross the ditch.
"I don't regret it whatsoever," she said.
"It was odd playing against some of my friends, these girls I've known since I was about 11 years old. It's harder to play against your friends. You know how much each other wants it.
"It was disappointing not to (beat Australia). We didn't show up to play."
That is all history.
O'Hanlon has put her first year as Black Sticks player behind her, and her focus is to make 2018 a bigger, more successful year on the field.
She must first be named in fellow Maryborough product and coach Mark Hager's initial squad for 2018, which includes the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and Hockey World Cup, then perform well enough to earn a place in those teams.
"Hopefully I'll be in that first squad," she said.
"You only want your best players and this year, it's the pointy end of this cycle.
"I've had I guess, what you could call an 'ease-in' year, but it's all serious this year. The goal is to make (the Gold Coast) and win.
"We can get that gold, we have the players and the ability. I think it's our big goal for the year."