Ireland women returned home on Monday to a true hero’s welcome, a civic reception held by Dublin’s lord mayor, silver medals and the catalysts for newfound respect in hockey after producing one of sport’s most extraordinary stories.
Over the last fortnight, the rise of the Irish was the story of the women’s World Cup.
Coach Graham Shaw will now urge Shirley McCay, his most experienced player, to opt out of retirement as Ireland aim towards Olympic qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
McCay, 30, played in her most important tournament after over a decade of service during a career where three Olympic qualifications have been missed
McCay was believed to be set on retiring after the World Cup and become a development coach with Ulster Hockey.
And Shaw said: ‘First of all she’ll have to talk to me before she retires!
‘She has been a true star, a real model for all young female players in Ireland, but her journey can’t end here and I’ll tell her that.
‘We’re 12 months away from an Olympic qualifier – that’s 12 months of your career to achieve your ultimate dream.
‘You’ve achieved one of them in winning a silver medal, so we’ll sit down and talk. She has done a lot for our sport and I’m hoping she’ll do a lot more in the next two years and then I’ll allow her to step away.’
McCay said last October that she was set on retiring after the World Cup, but she said on Sunday: ‘I never thought this would happen so I need to reflect and see. Maybe not, I can’t say.
‘I can’t say right now; this isn’t about me, it’s about the team and I am just so proud. I never thought this would happen so I need to go away and reflect and see.’
Ireland’s gutsy performances will now see them enter the world’s top 10 for the first time in next month’s rankings and belief surging through a side with a host of twenty-somethings and students wondering what the next step will be.
Shaw, a former Irish player, admitted that Ireland now need to push themselves even further forward to keep up with the world order after he witnessed Holland’s 6-0 from the dug out.
— Irish Hockey (@irishhockey) August 6, 2018
‘Hopefully the people who came over to support, the people at home watching on TV now can really truly see which way this sport needs to be played,’ he said.
‘This is what we need to aim for now in how we coach our young kids, how we coach our schools, how we coach our clubs. This is hockey at the very, very highest level and hopefully now people can see that.’
Once again Shaw was left overwhelmed by another 60 minutes of World Cup hockey. Only this time it was witnessed by a sea of green.
He added: ‘I mean it felt like a home game. It felt like we were in Dublin, Belfast or Cork playing. Just an incredible atmosphere and we’re so grateful to the people who travelled over to support the team.’
Meanwhile, midfielder Ali Meeke believes Ireland’s new-found confidence on the world stage has left them in good stead before they return as World Cup runners-up after a much-needed break.
Last summer, Ireland avoided relegation from the European elite division, despite a 7-2 trouncing to Spain. Twelve months on, Meeke said that Ireland were ‘going places’ in hockey.
Meeke, 27, said: “It’s in our locker but it’s about reaching those higher places and working on that.
‘We have to also hit the younger ages and schools’ hockey. And in the years to come when the wheels start turning you are going to see even more special things for us.’
With four Irish playing at elite clubs in Europe, including top scorer Anna O’Flanagan, some of Shaw’s players could now be lured to the continent to further enchance their reputations.
And Meeke said this will only benefit Shaw’s side.
She said: ‘It is growing in the women’s game. And you can see it from the players who can come back from their clubs in Europe and they are bringing that mentality and intensity and it’s feeding into our game. The more of that the better.’
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