Leah McGuire, formerly Ewart, is in the frame for a place in Ireland’s World Cup squad after emerging from under the radar following five years in the international wilderness, writes John Flack.
The Ulster woman, who plays for UCD, received a late call-up to the squad that took part in last week’s Tri-Nations tournament in Spain and played in three of Ireland’s matches against Belgium and the host team.
The former Armagh defender got her big chance after UCD’s Ellen Curran was forced to pull out of the panel due to injury and she enjoyed the experience although a lot has changed in the international set-up since she last played in 2012 in three games against Wales.
Her return to the squad could, no doubt, act as an incentive and encouragement to some of her contemporaries like fellow-Ulster woman Gemma Frazer and Kerri McDonald.
Those two players understandably opted out of the panel last year as they were concentrating instead on completing their teaching qualifications and have yet to come back into the mix.
But McGuire’s return to the fold suggests that, while head coach Graham Shaw has introduced several younger players into his recent squads, there’s still room for the more experienced players to make their mark and return to the ranks.
The 24-year-old McGuire was recalled to the training squad after catching Shaw’s eye when playing for the Dublin students.
“I knew Graham had been watching our club games this season and was impressed with how I was playing and liked my style,” she said. “He had approached me about being involved with the squad again in the build-up to the World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualifications.
“It just happened that when Ellen got injured, an opportunity came to go away and he wanted to see me play at that level so I was invited to the Tri-Nations which was great – I jumped at the chance.
“It had been a few years since I was in that environment so, despite knowing and playing with a lot of the girls previously at either club or under-age-level, a lot has changed regarding the game.
“For example, how they prepare for matches, the technology used around competing and analysing games and players.
“So there were aspects of it that felt new and also I hadn’t worked with a lot of the staff before so that was a new experience too.”
McGuire says she would dearly love to play for Ireland at the World Cup but she realises that there will be stiff competition for places in the final 18, especially in defence.
“From chatting with Graham, he seems very open-minded regarding the squad for the World Cup and there is a lot of training from now until then,” added the PhD student.
“It would obviously be very tough as there’s a lot of talent and depth currently in the squad and we all bring different things to the field.
“As a Christian, ultimately it is my relationship with God that is at that centre of all that I do.
I believe my ability to play hockey is a gift from God and I want to use it to the best of my ability to give thanks and to worship Him.
“That is my desire every time I train, run, step on the pitch, win or lose so my mindset doesn’t change regarding selection for the world cup.
“I will aim to give it my all for Him and if that leads to playing in London that would be incredibly special.”