, ,

Green Army icon Shirley McCay calls time on record-breaking Irish career

** Shirley McCay pictured above at the World Cup semi-final in 2018. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Shirley McCay has decided to call time on her international career following a ground-breaking 14-year spell with the Green Army.

Since making her international debut in 2007, the Drumquin native has gone on to play for 316 times, a caps record for both hockey and for female sportswomen in general in Ireland.

A diminutive defender with an eye for a glorious long pass, a teak-tough competitor willing to contest every opponent and situation, her passion and perseverance stand her out as one of the iconic faces of the Green Army’s rise.

A rise which has brought them from obscurity to the world’s elite levels, a journey culminating in the 2018 World Cup silver medal and a maiden appearance for the Irish women at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

While she has dabbled with the idea of retiring on a couple of occasions in the past few years, she feels the time is right following the Olympics for her to step back and “go all in” to guide the next generation of stars through her work as an Ulster Hockey performance coach.

Shirley McCay in action during the Olympic qualifiers. Picture: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Her beginnings in the sport came at Omagh Academy, picking up the basics of the game in jig-time, breaking into the senior team at the school when she was just 14. She would be a guiding light in Omagh’s sole Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirls success in 2005.

Omagh Hockey Club soon came calling, “loving life” on the fourth team and enjoying the ride up through the teams before giving some of Ulster’s big guns a run for their money.

There, her development was overseen with Anne Buchanan, Iris Nelson and June Graham crucial figures who became almost ever-present supporters at European Championships – eight in all – among other competitions.

It helped propel her to new heights on the club front, first with Randalstown and then with Ulster Elks – with whom she would win two Irish Senior Cup crowns – KHC Dragons in Belgium, Old Alex and then to Pegasus where she became an EY Champions Trophy winner.

Gene Muller invited her onto the international stage at the age of 18 for a series in Stellenbosch in January 2007. Since then, she has been virtually ever-present, missing just 37 of Ireland’s capped games in 14 and a half years.

Those early days were tough at times with Olympic and World Cup qualification proving well out of reach. Nonetheless, McCay was hooked on the journey and embraced the chance to travel the world, playing the sport she loved and while material success was elusive at the time, there were always moments to last a lifetime.

“In my early career, beating New Zealand in New Zealand [Wellington, 2008] was a special memory. Anytime we could get the better of someone above was a special moment and that was unheard of at the time. Thankfully it became more regular over time but I will never forget that.

“Another eye-opener was playing Argentina in Parana [in 2011] and about 10,000 people must have shown up and gave us an incredible reception. It’s things like that which stay with you, not always the big results but those amazing moments.

Shrley with her nephew at the Olympic qualifiers. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy 

During those early years, she hails the likes of Eimear Cregan, Linda Caulfield, Cathy McKean and Bridget Cleland for bringing her under their wing.

She remembers McKean “just telling me how class I was” at some early sessions, adding to “get something like that from such a good player was special” to hear.

As time went on, though, reaching the top table seemed to draw closer and closer, going within one result of reaching both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

And the breakthrough finally arrived via the World League in 2017, fighting back to beat India to earn a place in the 2018 World Cup.

Prior to that tournament, media reports suggested that would be her last run out in an Irish jersey. Indeed, she very much thought it was going to be the end, a suitable pinnacle after 11 years on the road, before the silver medal run changed everything for everyone involved.

“Getting over the Rio disappointment, it kind of felt like there would never be a bigger stage to go out on a high. Then things turned out the way they did, a way no one expected it to. With the silver medal, it gave us a much better ranking and a chance to qualify for the Olympics. I did not want to leave with any regrets for me or the team having come so far.”

And, of course, that dream was realised in November 2019 with qualification in front of a record crowd at Donnybrook Stadium, a lifetime away from the many years of empty stands and endless unseen effort. Those fixtures took on an extra significance as they marked her 300th cap while she cites walking out and signing the anthem with her nephew Alex as an extra special moment.

Her efforts in the background went on for an extra year due to the Covid-19 pandemic before eventually coming to fruition in July this year.

The side started off in brilliant fashion, breaking their duck with an historic 2-0 win over South Africa. Ultimately, a vital second win proved elusive and their campaign ended in the group stages.

“We were disappointed in regards to reaching our main target of reaching the quarter-finals. We had the capability of doing it but each team had those same dreams and that it why this is the toughest tournament.

“Even South Africa, with their limited preparation, showed some excellent hockey and there absolutely no easy games. Sure, the outcome was disappointing but the whole Olympic experience was filled with massive bucket-list moments.”

While the tournament was her curtain-call from the international playing scene, she knows she will not be too far from a pitchside anytime soon.

Indeed, she dove straight back into camps in her role as an Ulster Hockey Talent Coach and, last weekend, she was part of the coaching staff that saw Ulster win double-gold at the UK Schools Games. And she is thrilled at the prospect of inspiring the next generation on that front.

“Ulster Hockey have been so sympathetic to me and my international career, letting me do bits and pieces in between when I was away. I have been so used to trying to balance playing internationally and the role.

“So I am really looking forward to going all-in, committing to the job and making a difference, helping Ulster’s young talent develop and play to their potential.”

That role leaves her now in a peaceful position to step away from the international stage, paying tribute to her network who helped propel her to such spectacular heights.

“I am indebted to a few people who without their support I wouldn’t be where I am today. My friends, family and loved ones, thanks for putting up with me being grumpy and rarely being around.

“To the coaches I have had throughout my career, I have learnt so much from you all. To our sponsors, SoftCo and Park Developments in particular, thank you for helping prolong an old girl’s career and joining our journey.

“And finally, to every team mate I have ever had the pleasure of playing with, thanks for putting up with me. It has been an honour.”

,

Green Army back to work as focus shifts to World Cup qualifiers

The Green Army filtered back into camp this week following a month’s break in the wake of their maiden Olympic campaign as October’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Italy quickly come into view.

The event will take place in Pisa from October 21st to 24th with eight teams taking part from which only one side will earn a place at next summer’s showcase event.

For coach Sean Dancer, it is an uncharacteristically swift return to action with members of the Olympic panel returning to training on a phased basis, linking up on Monday and Tuesday at Abbotstown with members of the development panel.

From Dancer’s previous experience working with New Zealand in 2012 and 2016, there is usually a lengthy post-Games cooling off session but the nature of the Covid-19 affected calendar has brought this new qualifying event into view.

“I’m used to having a big ‘down’ period post the Olympics, the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one, getting everything ready and preparing for the next Olympics,” Dancer said of the packed calendar.

The format is a winner-takes-all scenario for the one remaining spot at the World Cup. Each game is a knock-out match with top-ranked Ireland (12th in the world) – barring any late changes in entry list – set to face the ever-improving France (27th) in the opening round.

Lying in wait in the semi-finals will be Russia (20th) and Belarus (21st) with the other side of the draw provisionally featuring hosts Italy (17th), Scotland (19th), Poland (23rd) and Wales (25th).

“It’s a cut-throat tournament. Scotland and Italy from the A division and then France with a lot to play for given the next Olympics in Paris, progressing well, it will be a really tough tournament and the reality is only the winner gets to go to the World Cup. Every game is a must-win!

“The way things have unfolded with the qualifiers in October and then hopefully doing well in the World Cup is really important for us. There will be some retirements and plenty of new players will get an opportunity to come in. That brings excitement and we need to harness that and push hard for the next six weeks.”

On that front, Dancer has reassurance the step up from the Under-23 development programme should not be as dramatic as years gone by. That group underwent a busy summer schedule of their own with a wide group of players lining out in fixtures at home and abroad.

And Dancer confirmed a number of players will traverse the squads when they return to the pitch next Monday for training as a group for the first time since returning from Tokyo.

“[Under-23 coach] Dave Passmore has done an excellent job over the summer. It is something that previously had been discussed as we knew there would some players stepping back from the programme and this group and so it was important that group was ready to step in when the time arrives.

“They had some really successful series, beating Wales seniors and GB’s development squad.”

And that link between the two squads has been made even stronger with last week’s news SoftCo have extended their current sponsorship with the senior women’s squad until the end of 2022 while also expanding their support to now be the Under-23 side’s primary sponsor.

“It’s amazing from SoftCo to continue sponsoring us and it is a big boost with the World Cup qualifier around the corner and new players coming into the group. It is a sponsorship that is hugely beneficial and supportive of the team.”

FIH Women’s World Cup 2022 – European qualifier (October 21 to 24, all in Pisa)
Thursday, October 21, quarter-final: Ireland v France, 11.30am
Saturday, October 23, semi-final: to be confirmed
Sunday, October 24, final: to be confirmed

Irish Senior Cup – Round 2

The Irish Senior Cup round 2 fixtures are confirmed to take place on 16th October with the 6th November held as a provisional date.

Fixtures for the Irish Senior Cup are as follows:

Men’s Irish Senior Cup

Round 1   2nd Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Rathgar Portrane
2 Railway Mossley
3 Bandon Kilkeel
4 Clontarf Cork Harlequins
5 Cookstown Instonians
Round 2   16th Oct’21 
Match # Team V Team
6 Winner 2 Winner 5
7 Annadale Pembroke
8 Lisnagarvey Winner 1
9 Banbridge Monkstown
10 Cork CofI Winner 3
11 YMCA UCD
12 TRR Corinthian
13 Glenanne Winner 4

 

QF   27th Nov ‘21
SF   27th Mar ‘22

 

Women’s Irish Senior Cup

Round 1   2nd Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Monkstown UCC
2 Ulster Elks Ballymoney
3 Banbridge Ards
4 Queens Cork CofI
5 DULHC Corinthian
Round 2   16th Oct’21 
Match # Team V Team
6 Pegasus Winner 2
7 Winner 4 Winner 1
8 Glenanne Winner 3
9 Cork Harlequins Pembroke
10 Lisnagarvey Muckross
11 Catholic Institute Winner 5
12 UCD Old Alex
13 Railway Loreto
QF   27th Nov ‘21
SF   27th Mar ‘22
,

Irish cup draws for 2021/22 confirmed

The 2020/21 Hockey Ireland Cup Competition Draws took place on September 3rd at the Hockey Ireland offices. The details for the first and second round draws of the Irish Senior Cup, Irish Hockey Trophy, Irish Hockey Challenge and Irish Junior Cups are below. The subsequent rounds will be drawn at a later date.

Men’s Irish Senior Cup

Round 1   2nd Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Rathgar Portrane
2 Railway Mossley
3 Bandon Kilkeel
4 Clontarf Cork Harlequins
5 Cookstown Instonians
Round 2   16th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
6 Railway Union Cookstown
7 Annadale Pembroke
8 Lisnagarvey Rathgar
9 Banbridge Monkstown
10 Cork CofI Bandon
11 YMCA UCD
12 TRR Corinthian
13 Glenanne Cork Harlequins
 Quarter Finals   27th Nov ‘21
Match # Team V Team
QF 1 Monkstown YMCA
QF 2 Glenanne Cork CofI
QF 3 Pembroke Cookstown
QF 4 TRR Lisnagarvey
  Semi Finals 27th Mar ’22

Women’s Irish Senior Cup

Round 1   2nd Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Monkstown UCC
2 Ulster Elks Ballymoney
3 Banbridge Ards
4 Queens Cork CofI
5 DULHC Corinthian
Round 2   16th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
6 Pegasus Ulster Elks
7 Queens UCC
8 Glenanne Banbridge
9 Cork Harlequins Pembroke
10 Lisnagarvey Muckross
11 Catholic Institute Corinthian
12 UCD Old Alex
13 Railway Loreto
Quarter Finals   27th Nov ‘21
Match # Team V Team
QF 1 Muckross Pegasus
QF 2 Queens Pembroke
QF 3 Banbridge Catholic Institute
QF 4 UCD Railway
Semi Finals   27th Mar ‘22

 

Men’s Irish Hockey Trophy

Round 1   16th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Ballynahinch Catholic Institute
2 Dublin North Bray
3 Belfast Harlequins UCC
4 Bangor Kilkenny
5 Ashton Portadown
6 NICS Queens
7 Avoca   South Antrim
8 North Down Newry

 

  Round 2   6th Nov‘21
Match # Team V Team
QF 1 Dublin North Queens
QF 2 Catholic Institute Portadown
QF 3 North Down Belfast Harlequins
QF 4 South Antrim Bangor
Semi Finals
19th Feb ‘22

 

Women’s Irish Hockey Trophy

Round 1   16th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Clontarf Rathgar
2 Portadown Mossley
3 Greenfields Bandon
4 YMCA Galway
5 TRR Ashton
6 Kilkenny Armagh
7 Bray Raphoe
8 North Kildare North Down
  Round 2   6th Nov‘21
Match # Team V Team
9 CI Ladies Ashton
10 YMCA Waterford
11 Mossley Raphoe
12 Clontarf Belvedere
13 Genesis Our ladys
14 Bandon NUIG
15 Avoca North Kildare
16 Dungannon Armagh
Quarter Finals 27th Nov ‘21
Match # Team V Team
QF 1 winner of match 14 winner of match 15
QF 2 winner of match 13 winner of match 10
QF 3 winner of match 9 winner of match 12
QF 4 winner of match 11 winner of match 16
  Semi Finals 19th Feb ‘22

Men’s Irish Junior Cup

Round 1 30th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Kilkeel Bandon
2 UCD Bangor
3 Corinthian Cork CofI
4 TRR YMCA
5 North Down Avoca
6 Cork Harlequins Instonians
7 Cookstown Rathgar
8 Railway South Antrim
     
Round 2 13th Nov‘21
       
Match # Team V Team
9 Railway Union Mossley
10 North Down Lisnagarvey
11 Clontarf Pembroke
12 Glenanne Cookstown
13 Corinthian YMCA
14 Kilkeel Bangor
15 Banbridge Instonians
16 Monkstown Annadale
QF 22nd Jan ‘21
SF 13th Mar’21


Women’s Irish Junior Cup

Round 1   30th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Avoca Cork CofI
2 Corinthian Lisnagarvey
3 Monkstown Genesis
4 UCC Ashton
5 Ulster Elks Catholic Institute
6 UCD Old Alex
     
Round 2 13th Nov‘21
       
Match # Team V Team
7 Muckross Monkstown
8 Old Alex Ashton
9 DULHC Corinthian
10 Ulster Elks Railway
11 Pembroke Pegasus
12 Loreto Belfast Harlequins
13 Ballymoney Queens
14 Cork Harlequins Avoca
QF 22nd Jan ‘21
SF 13th Mar’21

Women’s Irish Hockey Challenge

Round 1   9th Oct’21
Match # Team V Team
1 Kilkeel Bangor
2 Galway 2 Athlone
3 Skerries NICS
4 Botanic NUIG 2
5 Blackrock Clonmel
6 Cork Wanderers Tipperary
7 Wicklow Limerick
     
Round 2 11th Dec‘21
Match # Team V Team
8 Athlone Weston
9 NICS Mullingar
10 Greenfields 2 Bangor
11 NUIG Portrane
12 Wexford Kilkenny
13 Clonakilty Gorey
14 Enniscorthy Cork Wanderers
15 Blackrock Wicklow
QF   22nd Jan ‘21
SF   26th Feb’21

Men’s Irish Hockey Challenge

Group 1       Group 2     Group 3
Galway Wicklow Antrim
Limerick Naas Armagh
Mullingar Waterford Portrush
Midleton Saintfield