#50) Leah Wilkinson


Photo credit: Hockey Wales

Alun Wyn Jones, Jess Fishlock, Ryan Giggs, Helen Weston, Sam Warburton, Sarah Thomas – just some of the incredible athletes to have come out of Wales.

Each has a multitude of accolades – both individual and team – to their name and each is revered by many in the very highest terms.

However they have all been surpassed to one particular record by an individual you may not have comparatively heard too much about.

This weekend, Leah Wilkinson became the most capped Welsh team athlete of all time as she played her 158th game for her country in the second of a three-test series against France.

In doing so, she overtook fellow hockey player Paul Edwards in holding the record – in comparison, rugby’s most capped player is Gethin Jenkins (129) while Fishlock (116) and Weston (111) have made the most international appearances in football and netball respectively.

You may not hear much – if anything – about it from the major media outlets but that doesn’t mean Wilkinson’s achievement should be seen as anything but superb.

Wales is one of the proudest and most passionate sporting nations in the world and to hold this record over some of the aforementioned greats while playing as a largely amateur athlete in a relatively minor sport is testament to just how brilliant Wilkinson is.

Since making her international debut in 2004, the Holcombe player has showcased a combative, forceful style of play – she gives everything she has every time she plays and never, ever ducks out of a tackle.

As a result has had her fair share of painful blows – notably a sickening head collision with Alex Danson at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – but always manages to get up and before long is back giving everything for club and country.

It’s unfair to say she’s just a rugged centre back though; Wilkinson also possesses sublime skill when on the ball and can often be found tearing through defences, setting up attacks and even bagging the odd goal herself.

Wilkinson is a natural leader too and assumed the captaincy from Abi Welsford when she retired in early 2018 before overtaking her as the most capped Welsh female hockey player on the Gold Coast.

It was under her leadership at that tournament last April too that Wales pulled off one of their biggest ever victories, beating India 3-2 in their opening group game thanks to goals from Lisa Daley, Sian French and Natasha Marke-Jones.

So good a player is Wilkinson – who is also a history teacher – that many have long questioned why she has not been a part of the Great Britain set up alongside fellow Welsh compatriot Sarah Jones.

 

While the wider sporting world may not hear too much about her achievements, everyone associated with Wilkinson knows how special her achievement is, as does the individual herself.

Speaking to BBC Sport, she said: “It’s an amazing achievement. To put on the Welsh vest any time you play is really special but to do it 158 times – I’m really proud.

“When you step on the field it’s always about the result and how you get on. But I think maybe [I’ll give myself] a little pat on the back because I’m incredibly proud. It’s a big milestone. I haven’t actually sat back and really reflected and thought about it.

“I remember vividly my first cap and I can remember so many of the games I’ve played. Suddenly I’m 15 years on and 156, 157, 158 caps later. I’ve had some amazing experiences, I’ve played with some amazing players and been to some amazing places.”

Wilkinson could create further history later this year by leading Wales to the top tier of the EuroHockey Championships for the first time since 2003.

In order to do that they’ll need to finish in the top two of the EuroHockey Championships II tournament held in Glasgow this August, a feat they so nearly achieved two years ago on home soil.

That time they narrowly lost to Russia in the semi-finals and, with many of the squad from that tournament likely to play this time round, they will be hoping to use the pain of that experience to avenge that defeat.

Whatever the result however, one thing is certain – Wilkinson will go down as not just one of the greatest Welsh hockey players, but as one of the best athletes the country has ever produced.

Surely it’s only a matter of time before she’s indoctrinated into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame…

One thought on “#50) Leah Wilkinson

  1. A great article on Leah Wilkinson who is inspiring and also a lot of fun and very kind She and her family put a lot into the welsh women’s hockey set up and this recognition is well deserved

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