How Okumu guided Kenya to victory against Uganda in AFCON test matches
Kenya’s captain Gilly Okumu dribbles the ball past Uganda’s Faith Achom during an Africa Cup of Nations Test match at Sikh Union, Parklands on March 20, 2021. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

To many, Grace Bwire grabbed the headlines last week after netting a hat-trick against Uganda in the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nation test matches at Sikh Union Hockey stadium.

But nobody can despise Kenya’s captain Gilly Okumu, who was not only the inspiration that day, but the irresistible force of nature that drove her team and her nation to glory.

Okumu, a physically imposing and combative attacking midfielder, may not have struck the final blow to Uganda, but she was the architect of their downfall.

Okumu was the leader of a talented team that went into Sikh Union stadium after a long lay-off, but emerged victorious. 

Without Okumu’s tremendous will, guile and sheer force of personality, Kenya would have struggled to edge out their fierce rivals Uganda in the four-day Afcon test matches.

“The team has performed very well considering its a young side constituting of senior players and players from the junior team,” said Okumu in a phone interview with  Standard Sports.

“We were compact as one team as we brought each other’s strength out and worked on our weaknesses too.” Okumu.

How Okumu guided Kenya to victory against Uganda in AFCON test matches
Strathmore University’s Gilly Okumu playing against USIU during the Kenya Hockey Premier League match at City Park Stadium on Sunday June 17, 2019. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The Kenya national women’s hockey team thrashed rivals Uganda 11-0 in the opening test match last week on Thursday before drilling six more goals in the second match with the captain in the middle of almost every play and goals.

“The objectives of the team were to work and perfect the structures and improve on our weaknesses, including short corners and build-up play,” said the 25-year-old captain.

Being at the right place at the right time as she scored five goals and three assists in Kenya’s haul of 22, Okumu believes she has to lead as a captain so that the younger players can follow her example.

“Personal discipline and remembering that I’m mentoring the junior players drives my hunger for goals and victory in every match I play,” she said.

Despite staying out of action for more than one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Strathmore University player said team work, courage and unity has played a big role in her current form.

“Of course, there has to be a difference in how you are dealing with them after a long break since it affected many people negatively. But it’s the sport that brought us together and on the pitch, we forget all our problems and issues, focusing on the match at hand,” she added.

How Okumu guided Kenya to victory against Uganda in AFCON test matches
Captain Gilly Okumu [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Okumu said she is pleased and happy when other people also grow and bring out their best to the team, while congratulating Flavia Mutiva, Grace Bwire and Carol Guchu for stepping up when the team needed goals.

“Everyone has a day when things don’t go as planned and that’s when you need the team to stand up and be counted. My happiness is to grow together, win together, laugh together because one’s achievements leads to the whole teams’ victory,” she said.

Kenya and Uganda qualified for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations Test matches to be held in Ghana.

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