Posted: 3 weeks ago

Have boots, will travel… globe-trotting hockey star Laura Graham’s journey through sport back to her family’s NI roots

Laura in action for Ireland against South Africa

BY JANA McCABE

IRELAND indoor hockey international Laura Graham has lived around the world before, aged 22, moving to her dad’s native Northern Ireland. Born in Norway, Laura’s family moved to Holland when she was three, and she then went to boarding school in England, before moving to Belfast to complete her Masters in Management at Queen’s University. 

“The opportunity to study here came up, and the Masters course is really good. I have family here and my dad had a property for me to use, it was all ideal,” multi-lingual Laura explained.

Laura started playing hockey when she was six and made her debut for Ireland in December 2021. Her dad, Gordon, is from Portadown and moved to the Netherlands after completing his degree at Queens, meeting Laura’s Dutch mum a few years later.

“I was living in Germany on my year aboard, and then in Spain when I won my first cap, and have been playing ever since,” Laura relates! “For my first cap, my whole family was there and afterwards my dad said to me he had a tear in his eye! I was like ‘gosh I’ve never seen you cry in my life!’

“There’s a big difference between indoor and outdoor hockey. You can only push the ball in indoor, you can’t slap or hit. You can’t lift the ball, the ball can’t go into the air and there are no sidelines. There are boards and you can pass the ball off the boards to yourself or your teammates.”

Ulster hockey run a two weekend Round Robin competition in January when teams from Ards and Queens University compete for a place in the All-Ireland competition.  Laura plays for Queens, but Ards have been the champions for over a decade.

“I left Holland too young to do the Junior international section and then I did the England Youth set-up, but wasn’t successful which was disappointing.  I knew someone who played for Ireland and they told me to get an Irish passport so I could play. When I got the opportunity I jumped at it.”

The Irish team have recently won gold at the Division 2 Euros, meaning they will compete in Division 1 in the next Euros in 2026. Ireland have also defeated South Africa back-to-back in the last few years. 

“Division 1 is going to be such a challenge,” Laura stressed. “Ireland are 20th in the world and all the teams in Division 2 were around that as well. However the teams we are up against now – including Austria, Netherlands and Germany – are ranked the top three in Europe, so they’re really good. It’s an exciting prospect to be able to play, and hopefully compete, against those teams.”

There are 12 in a team with a squad of 14 travelling to international games and over 30 up for selection.

“I’ve been to South Africa twice, two Christmases in a row, Galway for the Euros and we are just back from the USA for a test series. I love all the travelling,” Laura adds.

When asked what her goals are with the indoor hockey side, Laura stated: “My goal would be to progress to the World Cup with Ireland. You have to perform at the Euros to get to the World Cup.  In 2026 we want to compete and get used to the higher level and then, in 2028, we want to really fight for the World Cup. The team is more dynamic than I thought it would be. There are a handful of girls who have been in the squad for years now and I am one of them by default because I’ve been there for three years now. 

“You always want to try your best and no one has a guaranteed spot, apart from your captain really, which is motivating but stressful. We’re trying to promote the sport and make it more popular. In Galway there were a few schools who participated because it was close to half-term but it’s still a small sport and one of our goals as a team is to grow indoor hockey and make it more attractive and more fun and get people starting younger. 

“I started at six but people normally wouldn’t start until their teens as there’s enough opportunities which is sad, especially in winter break when everything is cancelled with the snow etc. It’s just about changing the attitude and letting potential players know it’s a good sport. Your indoor really helps your outdoor game which people don’t grasp. We’re trying to make it bigger. After the game against South Africa in Dublin, people came onto the pitch and got us to sign stuff. It was a weird experience signing something, I was thinking ‘why am I doing this? This is so weird!’”

Laura, currently working on a these on the raltionship between sport and businesss, graduates from Queen’s in December and is currently looking for a graduate job in the UK or the Netherlands.