20 things you didn’t know about Ireland’s hockey heroes

Ahead of their historic World Cup final, Stephen Findlater looks at some things you may not know about our hockey heroes.

1. Larne keeper Ayeisha McFerran made her international debut a day before she turned 18 and is famous for her sharp footwork in shoot-outs. Indeed, that first camp saw her brought on specifically for this purpose in a win over Canada in World League Round 2 in 2015 before she became number one choice. Her agility comes from nine years of Irish dancing.

2. Second choice keeper Grace O’Flanagan spent six months out of the squad between 2015 and 16 to recover from a rare form of cancer in her neck as she revealed in the Irish Examiner last week. A trainee doctor, she says many would not have bothered to check out the initial cyst but her medical inquisitiveness saved her.

3. Wicklow woman Lena Tice became the second youngest person in the world to play international cricket in August 2011. Between T20s and one day internationals, she earned 40 caps before switching to hockey as her primary sport.

4. Yvonne O’Byrne won an All-Ireland schools hockey title in just her second year playing the sport as a 14-year-old with Mount Mercy. Along with Hannah Matthews, she is one of only two players to have played for just one club.

5. Shirley McCay is Ireland’s most capped sportswoman in any code, with 271 appearances to her name since making her debut in January 2007. She hails from Drumquin, 10 miles west of Omagh, and has indicated she will retire at the end of the tournament, likely to leave a mark of 273 for others to chase on the all-time caps list.

6. Limerick’s Roisin Upton is one of the most successful players in NCAA history and was the standout player in two American titles for the UConn Huskies. Twice she was called into the Irish squad only to sustain injuries before finally making her debut in December 2016 before she even made a club appearance that season for Cork Harlequins.

7. As a teenager, Hannah Matthews took the winning stroke in the 2010 Irish Senior Cup final for Loreto and was carried shoulder high out of Belfield. Her coach that day was Graham Shaw, too. She is the daughter of former Irish rugby international Philip.

8. Lizzie Colvin started playing adult hockey in her early teens, helping Armagh to six successive promotions from the seventh tier of the Ulster leagues to the national stage before moving to Dublin for her studies age 18. She is one of two players to have overcome a cruciate knee ligament injury — along with Megan Frazer — spending 18 months out.

9. Coleraine woman Katie Mullan was part of the Eoghan Rua club that won the club’s first ever Derry senior camogie championship in 2010 and went on to grace Croke Park, winning the All-Ireland intermediate title with victory over Laois’s The Harps. For a long time, she combined the two sports but the mileage — initially from Dublin where she was on scholarship at UCD and then from Cork, where she was on placement as a biomedical engineer — saw her take a break from GAA.

10. Derry’s Megan Frazer was part of the Northern Ireland Under-16 soccer squad but decided to focus on hockey, saying the big ball game came to her too easy, getting international call-ups within a year of starting to play.

With hockey, she was dropped from her first Ulster trials and was hooked. “No one really likes things that come easy, do they?” she said of the situation.

11. Shin splints forced Nicci Daly to give up hockey for two years in her early 20s during which time the Rathfarnham woman broke into the Dublin ladies football panel with the grass proving more forgiving. She was selected off the back of exceptional performances in the Junior E championship with the Wanderers club.

12. Daly also divides her time between playing hockey and working in the US with the Juncos Racing Team with whom she is a data engineer. She makes her track racing debut later this month at Mondello Park as part of a Formula Female team.

13. Chloe Watkins is part of a major Irish hockey dynasty. Her brother Gareth has played for the men’s team and her father Gordon was also capped. Her exploits this week, particularly in the shoot-out, suggest she can probably claim bragging rights. Neither of them have had a cocktail named after them just yet: Cosmo Chloe, anyone?

14. Anna O’Flanagan is either one or five goals off the record Irish goalscoring total, with her goal against India in the group stage bringing her up to 64. Official records have Lynsey McVicker down as scoring 65 in green. However, other statisticians suggest the Rathgar native has 69, with Jenny Burke having scored 65.

15. With a superhero name, Deirdre Duke could have been a soccer star had she continued on playing.

The Dubliner won underage caps in that code as well as lining out to good effect for Kilmacud Crokes in football before focusing on hockey.

16. Coach Graham Shaw played in underage soccer teams at Lourdes Celtic with Damian Duff and former Dublin footballer Collie Moran before choosing hockey.

In 2010, he famously coached Loreto to the women’s Irish Senior Cup before playing in the men’s final later the same day and winning again with Glenanne.

17. Assistant coach Arlene Boyles played in Ireland’s last World Cup appearance, top-scoring for the side in Perth in 2002. It was an inauspicious trip, however, ending with seven losses from seven in the marathon group stages before eventually finishing 15th out of 16 via the playoffs.

18. Goalkeeper coach Nigel Henderson, a farmer by trade, can probably be regarded as the world’s best at his art. A former Irish captain, he has been coach to two-time world stopper of the year David Harte and is now working the oracle with Ayeisha McFerran who looks to be a shoo-in for the goalkeeper of the tournament award. His signature move was the “head-butt”, frequently using his helmet as his preferred implement to save shots.

19. Nikki Evans is one of a trio of players to take a break from work to pursue hockey full-time, going to Germany with UHC Hamburg with whom she won double silver this season in the European Cup and the German championships.

20. Ali Meeke is another looking to add a World Cup medal to a Junior E football championship title with Wanderers in Dublin. In addition to her silky skills, she has also been showing off her voice with renditions of Justin Bieber making it onto the BBC website.

The girls in green progress after beating Spain 3-2 on penalties.


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