By Hannah Blackwell
Leah Wilkinson – Wales’ most capped sportsperson with over 200 appearances for her country – has announced her international retirement.
The Great Britain Olympian has chosen to bring down the curtain on a 19-year Test career that spanned 204 appearances for Wales and GB.
The 36-year-old will continue to play club hockey for Surbiton, but her decision to leave the international arena means the end of an era for hockey in Wales.
Arguably, Wales’ greatest-ever hockey player, Wilkinson becomes the fifth women’s international within the Wales squad to end her time in a red vest in the past six months, following the decisions of Sian French, Natasha Fortnam, Sophie Robinson and Julie Read.
In all, Wilkinson played in 183 games for Wales, plus a further 21 for Great Britain, accumulated since 2008 across one Olympic Games – where she was part of the GB squad that won bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Games – four Commonwealth Games and countless international tournaments.
Across Welsh sport, only rugby star Alun Wyn Jones comes close to Wilkinson.
The former captain has won 169 Test caps in total – 157 for Wales and 12 for the British and Irish Lions.
204 all out. What an unforgettable journey. https://t.co/rObgmj1ONS
— Leah Wilkinson (@Leahwilkinson17) March 6, 2023
“It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to retire from international hockey,” said Wilkinson.
“Having played for Wales for nearly two decades, I know that the time is right, and though I will miss representing Wales an immeasurable amount, I firmly believe that the squad is in a great place and will continue to move up the world rankings.
“Reflecting on my time playing for Wales, I have endless memories, from travelling across Russia in a bus to playing in front of thousands of people in the Gold Coast.
“I have been so lucky; I have travelled the world, played in nine Europeans and four Commonwealth Games, playing against some of the best teams and players in the world.
“I have been coached by some world class coaches and more important than anything, I have played alongside some incredible women.
“I would like to thank everyone who have been involved in my journey with Hockey Wales since 2004, I will forever be grateful.
“Thank you also to my family and friends who have supported me throughout my journey, it’s been a rollercoaster for us all!
“I will continue to support the team from a distance and wish them the very best.”
Leah Wilkinson’s Legacy: A Remarkable Contribution to Welsh Hockey
Wales Women’s head coach, Kevin Johnson said: “It is almost too difficult with words to be able to communicate the full impact and legacy of Leah’s contribution to Welsh hockey over such a sizeable time period.
“Her longevity at the top level was certainly achieved as a result of the extremely high professional standards she set and met for herself, never letting herself be anything other than best prepared to show the consistent levels of performance that she did across the span of her International career.
“Her game on the field was always an impressive mix of a highly competitive nature with physicality, bravery, a combative style with a will to win that meant she all too often put her body on the line for the team, with painful consequences at times, alongside her extremely effective technical skill set which she could execute just as efficiently under pressure.
After 18 years and 204 caps, Wales’ most capped ever sports person Leah Wilkinson announces international retirement!
— Hockey Wales (@HockeyWales) March 6, 2023
“She weighed in with important goals regularly, again demonstrating her ability to deliver under pressure, with her quality no more evident than with her trademark penalty corner head side deflections which a number of International teams will now be pleased not to have to try and stop in the future.
“Off the field she grew into an effective leader of the group, not only leading by example and as a role model to many with her playing but also with her willingness to share her life experiences and help support other members of the squad as they navigated their way through life and International hockey.”