Ayeisha McFerran will make her return to the Ireland squad for the first time since her World Cup heroics in August as one of eight Ulster players in the panel for next month’s trip to Chile.
The Larne women was named goalkeeper of the tournament after helping Ireland reach the final in London with a series of stunning performances, having been instrumental in penalty shootout wins over India in the quarter-finals and Spain in the last four.
The 23-year-old is joined in the journey to South America by three of the other Ulster players who won silver medals at the World Cup, with team captain Katie Mullan, Zoe Wilson and Megan Frazer also named in the panel. Shirley McCay, who is still mulling over her international future, and Lizzie Colvin, who is unavailable, miss out on the trip when Ireland will play four internationals against the world number 16 nation.
Four other Ulster players have been named in head coach Graham Shaw’s squad with the Barr twins, Bethany and Serena, who are set to win their first caps, joined by Gemma Frazer and Ruth Maguire, who have made three and seven previous appearances respectively, in the line-up.
McFerran says she is happy to be back on board after she recently made history by being named in the all-American colleges selection for a record fourth time in a row in this her final year at the University of Louisville. She said: “I was very surprised and honoured to be the first four-times all American for the field hockey programme at Louisville.”
“However, it was very much an achievement for the rest of the team, and coaching staff as much as myself as they are the people that help make me better each day at training.”
However, McFerran says she found it difficult trying to replicate her World Cup performances after returning to America.
“It has been a hard season in terms of individual performance throughout as I struggled to regain the form I had at the World Cup and bring it over to college,” she revealed.
“I feel that I tried to push myself too hard to get to playing at that level again, and it didn’t quite happen. However I will definitely use that as a learning experience to help prepare me for future season where every I may be.”
But the former Pegasus keeper says he is looking forward to getting back into international action as Ireland continue their preparations for their Olympic qualifying campaign.
“I’m excited to be heading to Chile with the girls, there’s a lot of new and different faces on the squad so it will be good to see how they get on,” she added.
“It’s definitely good start to the Olympic qualifying year, spending so much time together is only a positive as we get to know each other very well on and off the pitch which is huge if we want more success to come, and the next step in that is qualifying for Tokyo.”
McFerran and the rest of the 19-strong World Cup silver medal winning squad, along with coach Graham Shaw and manager Arlene Boyles, are featured in a BBC NI documentary to be shown over the Christmas holiday. Entitled ‘Live like Legends’, it’s a must-watch 30 minute programme, expertly produced by Nigel Ringland, to be broadcast on BBC 2 at 7pm on Thursday December 27, as all the players recall their incredible journey in London in their own words, with a tear or two along the way.
The documentary, which has highlights from all of Ireland’s games, includes previously unseen fly-on-the wall footage and will tug at the heart strings as Frazer emotionally reveals her pain at missing the final due to injury.
Speaking of pain of a more serious variety, McFerran’s deputy Grace O’Flanagan explains how she battled cancer to resume her hockey career, defying all the odds, just like the national team did when they finished runners up at the showpiece.
Grace describes the scenario as beyond her wildest dreams, in an unstated metaphor for Ireland’s wonderful journey, after coming off the bench to replace McFerran in the latter stages of the final against the Netherlands.
Nigel’s 30-minute programme is fabulous from start to finish – just like those 15 unforgettable days in London.