HOCKEY star Shirley McCay has paid tribute to all those who helped her become only the second Irish ladies player to win 200 international caps.
The Drumquin woman reached the phenomenal milestone when Ireland were defeated 3-1 by Germany in their second Pool B World League Three qualifying game in Valencia on Thursday.
Two goals in quick succession from Anna Schroder and Marie Mavers in the third quarter set the Germans on their way. Anna Flanagan pulled a goal back to give Ireland a glimmer of hope but Lydia Haase swooped with a late third to kill off the Irish challenge.
The previous day McCay had helped the Green Army to a magnificent 4-1 victory over South Africa as Darren Smith’s charges got their qualifying campaign for the Rio Olympics 2016 off to the perfect start.
Despite Thursday’s disappointing defeat, former Schools’ Cup winner McCay said the game against Germany had been a special moment.
“We were disappointed to concede so late on when we had come back into the game,” said the Ulster Hockey coach.
“We created enough chances to nick a result, at least a draw. But they are European champions for a reason and they took their chances and were clinical. Reaching 200 caps is a pretty special feeling! It has come as a result of so many years of hard work and commitment so I am really proud to have reached the milestone.
“For me it has been an absolute pleasure and honour to be able to pull on an Irish jersey and I couldn’t wish to do it with a better bunch of girls.
“Since my first cap the goal has always been to qualify and have the chance to compete at an Olympic Games and we will give it everything we have to make the chance a reality.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to play for Ireland and despite the sacrifices it takes the reality is that we are in a privileged position and one that not many get to experience.
“It’s important for me to be able to thank those who have made my international career possible. When I was a teenager it didn’t pay me a second thought to ask my parents to take me on a three hour round trip to train in Belfast, or on a 400km round trip to train in Dublin. Now when I drive it myself most weekends I realise the commitment that they made to make it happen. They sacrificed so much and I can’t thank them enough.”
McCay, 27, played her first game for Ireland against Canada back in 2007 and has been a permanent fixture in the national team set-up ever since.
National coach Darren Smith hailed the huge contribution the ex-Omagh Academy pupil has made to the Ireland cause. “Shirley is a fantastic Green Army team player, not only in her quality on the pitch but also her professionalism and humour off it,” he said.
FULL STORY IN TODAY’S TYRONE HERALD.