Ulster Hockey talent coach Shirley McCay will edge closer to a remarkable 300 international caps for Ireland after reconsidering her plans to retire after last August’s World Cup when Graham Shaw’s team defied the odds to lift the silver medals.
The Pegasus defender, who made a record-breaking 273rd appearance in the green shirt in London, is one of eight Ulster players in a 26-strong squad for a total of five games against Spain and India in Murcia and Granada next month.
Those matches are part of a busy preparation period ahead of the start of the Olympic qualifying campaign in Dublin in June.
Lurgan-born twins, Serena and Bethany Barr, along with World Cup stars, Zoe Wilson, Katie Mullan, Lizzie Colvin are also included in the squad while there are recalls for former Ards striker Chloe Brown, who’s now playing for East Grinstead and UCD’s Leah Maguire, neither of whom made the cut for London.
McCay says she’s feeling refreshed and hoping to realise her dream of competing in Tokyo in 2020 after three previously unsuccessful Olympic qualifying campaigns.
She said: “I really enjoyed my break from the National Programme and it gave me a good chance to rest both physically and mentally and reflect on where I am in my hockey career and what I still want to achieve.”
“It was very much on my mind to stop when the World Cup concluded but It has been and still is a dream of mine to compete in an Olympics and this is probably as good a chance as we will get.
“I know there will be ups and downs to come and there is still a lot of planning and hard work to be done but I know I would regret it if I didn’t pursue my dream.”
In addition to next month’s games in Spain, Ireland will play a series against Great Britain in England in March, and Canada in Dublin in May ahead of the Olympic qualifier in June.
In a busy year, Shaw’s girls will then face European Championship hosts Belgium before the tournament gets under way in Antwerp in August.
Ireland squad for games v Spain and India in February:
Liz Murphy, Emma Buckley, Bethany Barr, Hannah Matthews, Lena Tice, Serena Barr, Hannah McLoughlin, Chloe Brown, Katie Mullan, Ali Meeke, Roisin Upton, Ellen Curran, Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan, Sarah Torrans, Deirdre Duke, Sarah Hawkshaw, Aisling Naughton, Lizzie Colvin, Emily Beatty, Yvonne O’Byrne, Sinead Loughran, Leah McGuire, Shirley McCay, Nicci Daly, Zoe Wilson.