FIRST GOLD: Grace O'Hanlon (back row, fourth from left) and her New Zealand teammates celebrate their historic gold medal win.
FIRST GOLD: Grace O'Hanlon (back row, fourth from left) and her New Zealand teammates celebrate their historic gold medal win. Ryan Pierse

Grace goes full circle for Games gold medal

THE GAMES: The first rep hockey tournament Grace O'Hanlon played at was held at Labrador, the same place she helped New Zealand win its first Commonwealth Games gold medal on Saturday.

"It was cool that I could go back there and come home with this guy,” the Black Sticks' semi final hero said, grasping her newly-earned gold medal.

"It's very, very nice.”

A young O'Hanlon, then growing up in the Heritage City and playing for Maryborough Brothers, was part of a Maryborough under-13s team on her first rep journey.

Thirteen years after that journey, the now 25-year-old O'Hanlon stopped England's best strikers in their tracks during a stressful semi final shoot-out, a commanding performance in the net that sent New Zealand to the gold medal match, and then, history.

"I think they were pretty confident moving into shoot-outs and they had the rug pulled out from under them I think,” she recalled at New Zealand House, the team's supporters base, just hours after the biggest moment of her international career to date.

"That was a good feeling.

"I was so focused I had no idea what else was going on. I almost don't remember anything (from the semi final).

"I think the semi was a really good practice. I knew what was coming, I knew what was expected of me. I knew that if my time came I was going to be ready.

"If it did, I was ready to go.”

O'Hanlon, the Black Sticks' penalty specialist, was not needed in the gold medal match against the Hockeyroos.

Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch - who inadvertently contributed to O'Hanlon's defection to New Zealand - had not conceded a goal in Australia's previous five games.

The streak wouldn't last.

Stacey Michelson, Olivia Merry, Rose Keddell and Shiloh Gloyn each found the net as the Black Sticks dismantled the Australians to win the game 4-1 and their first Commonwealth Games gold medal.

O'Hanlon lived and trained in Perth for two years as she tried to crack the Hockeyroos' squad, but Lynch's decision to play on after the Rio Olympics left O'Hanlon to look for another route to international hockey. She qualified for New Zealand through her dad, and in early January, 2017, moved her life across the Tasman.

She immediately made the Black Sticks squad, and was part of every tour since her debut against Argentina in February, 2017, but she never expected to stand atop the dais at the Gold Coast Games.

"Certainly not a gold medal,” she said. "I think maybe getting a look-in and possibly going to a Commonwealth Games was part of my decision to move there, but that was a far off, distant, future Grace's problem. That's what motivated me over to New Zealand, but to have that come true is unbelievable.”

O'Hanlon will have a short break before preparation starts for the World Cup, though the Auckland-based goalkeeper said she intended to spend time playing hockey in Europe.

The World Cup, scheduled to be held in England from July 21, will see the Trans-Tasman rivals face off in the pool stages, but for now, she will celebrate the major role she played in writing a new chapter of New Zealand's sporting history.