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World Cup Qualification - Ulster Reaction

Shirley McCay has revealed that she is set to quit international hockey following next year's World Cup in London after Ireland sealed their place at the showpiece.

The Omagh woman and Ulster Hockey talent coach, is the country's most-capped female athlete and she made her 250th appearance at the European Championship in Amsterdam in August. 

Ireland were first reserve following the World League 3 tournament in Johannesburg in July and were relying on the results of the various continental championships going their way. In the latest event, Australia and New Zealand have booked their place in the Oceanic Cup final in Sydney following 23-0 and 33-0 wins respectively over Papua New Guinea.

Because both nations have pre-qualified for the World Cup, Ireland have moved up the list and have reached the finals for the first time since 2002.

McCay said: "I will be 30 by the time the World Cup comes along and I think it's a good time to hang up my stick so it will probably be my last tournament. I really hope to enjoy my club season with Pegasus, work hard to be the best shape I can be going into the summer and play in what is essentially a home World Cup for us."

"I can't wait to get stuck into it as big tournaments like this don't come around too often for us and we don't want to be going along just to make up the numbers."

Two other Ulster players who won't be retiring after the competition, scheduled for next July and August, are Belfast Harlequins' defender Zoe Wilson and ex-Pegasus goalkeeper, Ayeisha McFerran, who is now based in the United States.

McFerran (21) said: "Competing in a World Cup will be a fantastic experience, it is something that, not just myself, but a lot of girls within this squad have been dreaming of and working very hard to achieve."

"It's an opportunity to compete against the world's best, and it's a great moment to look forward to in my career. We all know that we are able to compete with the top teams, now this gives us the opportunity to go out and do it on a world stage once again." 

"I feel over the past few years there may have been a negative vibe when people think of an Irish women's team, however we went out and proved time and time again that we are the real deal despite having very little support and funding." 

McFerran and several other members of the current squad had their hopes of competing at the Rio Olympics dashed in cruel fashion when China beat Ireland in a penalty shoot-out in Valencia two years ago.

She added: "I feel at the point we are at, our team have moved on from the disappointment of missing out on Rio."

"It's a different squad from Valencia in terms of the players, but those individuals that were there have developed more and more. We used it as a learning experience to drive us and the other individuals on even more and everyone involved is very excited about the journey ahead but it is just another stepping stone in our Tokyo 2020 cycle."

Wilson, at 20, is one of the youngest members of the current squad and she, too, is looking forward to playing in the second biggest hockey tournament on the global stage.

She said:"In terms of hockey competitions that a player aspires to,  competing in the World Cup is at the top of the list alongside the Olympic Games.You only have to turn on the television or radio to see what it would means to football in Northern Ireland and for hockey players it is no different." 

"The prospect of playing on the world stage against the best teams is so exciting and for me personally a challenge I hope to rise to. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to experience this so early in my hockey career and certainly hope it won’t be a one off."

"There have been heartbreaking moments or near misses for many of the girls and I think it is a special achievement and it will be an honour to represent Ireland at our first World Cup since 2002. The fact the competition is being held in London will hopefully encourage spectators to travel and enjoy the games as well as raising the profile for ladies hockey in Ireland."

Meanwhile the weekend games between Belfast Harlequins and Loreto in the EYHL and Queen's in the Irish Senior Cup have been postponed as has the men's ISC game between Instonians and Cookstown, scheduled for Sunday.

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