Glasgow 2014: Catroina Ralph at her 3rd Games

Catriona Ralph on the Swilken Bridge at the Old Course in St Andrews. Picture: Alistair Devine
Catriona Ralph on the Swilken Bridge at the Old Course in St Andrews. Picture: Alistair Devine
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CATRIONA Ralph is not a newcomer to the Commonwealth stage but this year’s games will be unlike the experiences the international hockey player enjoyed in Melbourne and then Delhi.

“I was very fortunate that my husband Mark represented Scotland [at hockey] as well and he was also in Melbourne and Delhi. For both of us to be at the Games together – and by the time we went to Delhi we were married – that made it really special and I love being able to share those memories with Mark.

“He retired after Delhi so he will be coming at it from a completely different perspective this time and will be able to go and see the rugby and the badminton etc as well.”

Ralph describes her husband as her No.1 fan and insists he will still support her every step of the way but adds that the multi-sport element makes the Commonwealth Games so exciting.

“It’s actually the Team Scotland element that is so memorable. You’re not just thinking about hockey, you want to know how the swimmers or the boxers or all the other athletes are doing. You just get behind everyone and they get behind you and that’s really nice. That’s what makes the Commonwealths so special.”

A fresh-faced youngster when she travelled to Australia in 2006, Ralph recalls the jolt of excitement she felt on one of the first days there. “I went to breakfast and Chris Hoy popped up next to me getting his Rice Krispies! I was like ‘oooh’ and to think that he was part of my team was incredible. It was pretty special.”

Fast forward to this summer and, with the experience of two Games tucked away, Ralph is now a vice-captain and one of the country’s most capped players, a member of an elite band of Scottish female hockey internationalists with more than 150 caps. But the fact she will be representing the host nation this summer gives these Games the edge.

“I was fortunate to be in Melbourne in 2006 and Delhi in 2010 so I do have a bit of Commonwealth Games experience behind me but everything throughout the last four years has been about Glasgow and the preparation and build-up and there is much more of a buzz.

Describing herself as a Glasgow girl at heart, despite the fact she now lives in Renfrew, Ralph adds: “Everyone is so much more aware, the public, family and friends and everyone is behind us. I don’t think we feel extra pressure but it does add to the excitement.”

A physiotherapist at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, Ralph says it’s not just her immediate colleagues who want to talk about the Games, with doctors, nurses and patients all caught up in it as well.

“With it being a home Games, the support that will be there will be amazing. There will be a lot more Scots there backing blue. I don’t think we feel extra pressure, we are just more aware of people wanting us to do well.”

Having just returned from a few days watching the sport’s elite at the Hockey World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, Ralph’s appetite has been well and truly whetted.

“My husband Mark and five of the other girls from the national team and I went over to watch. What an incredible environment. The atmosphere was amazing and it does inspire you. We played against some of the teams in the World Cup only a month ago at Glasgow Green. That was pretty cool and makes us more excited for the Commonwealths as well.”

Four years ago, Scotland’s women finished seventh in Delhi. They have taken steps to improve on that with short-term funding having allowed them to train full-time in the final few months and Ralph says the benefits are already tangible.

“I tend to work from 8.30am-4.30pm so I would be training before and after work but, at the moment, we have been fortunate enough to get a grant from Sportscotland that has allowed us to be full time since April and that’s been a massive benefit. There’s more quality in what we are doing, we get better rest and recovery and we can fine tune things a lot better. Over the winter it was a hard slog training before work and then again after. It was pretty tough but the last four months will give us an amazing build-up.

“When you work full time, you have to be absolutely meticulous with your time management to be able to fit everything in.

“I now have a little more free time, my nutrition is better and I’m able to prepare meals in advance. I get better sleep and I’m not burning the candle at both ends and that’s made a big difference.

“I don’t feel as fatigued and tired through training and we are definitely getting more out of the sessions.”

Scotland defeated Ireland 3-1 on Friday in the first match of a double-header as they step up their preparations. They have the second match at Glasgow Green at 1pm today, followed by a series against Spain before a team camp in Stirling. They then head south of the border for the Investec Cup against England, South Africa and Wales.

In between they will have a team bonding session training with the Royal Marines at Faslane.

Ralph adds: “Our coach Gordon Shepherd set that up for us and we have no idea what to expect. There was mention of shooting guns and apparently they are really excited to have us down there and we are really excited to go so it will be an amazing experience.”