Ulster Hockey Talent Coach and Ireland World Cup silver medal heroine Shirley McCay will return to her roots on Saturday night when Omagh celebrate their 60th anniversary at a gala function at the Silver Birch Hotel, writes John Flack.Shirley started her career at the Tyrone club when she was a youngster before going on to play for Randalstown, Ulster Elks and Pegasus more recently.
She has fond recollections of her time at Omagh and is certain to receive a hero’s welcome at Saturday’s event.
“My early memories of Omagh are when I turned old enough to play in the adult leagues we (myself, Claire Buchanan, Katharine Elkin etc) all played for the 4ths, we were all school girls, so usually had to get a bus to away matches,” she recalled.
“At the start, I didn’t even have an actual playing shirt so I had a borrow an orange cotton thing. We had so so much fun and every weekend was like a road trip and there were a lot of cut knees from dodgy pitches and gravel.
“We used to train with school Monday and Wednesday and wait in the leisure centre for Anne Buchanan (now Young) to pick us up and bring us to club training. Not much school work was done!
“I went from the 4ths to the 1st XI and we played in the Premier League. We used to keep up with the big dogs, giving them a run for their money in our day. Anne still scores a couple every weekend.
“Anne, Iris Nelson, June Graham were all great for me growing up and even still today are regulars at tournaments and so supportive.”
Shirley has gone on to bigger and better things since her formative years in the sport and her life has been hectic since helping Ireland to World Cup glory.
Already Ireland’s most-capped sportswoman, she made her 273rd international appearance in the final in London.
Since then, along with the rest of the squad, she has been in demand with an audience with the Irish President, Michael D Higgins and an appearance on RTE’s Late Late Show just two of the many highlights.
“Since London, it has been a bit of a whirlwind but to be honest its great to be recognised for our efforts, representing the team at presentations and events is a pleasure and not to be taken for granted,” she added.
“What we achieved is definitely still very surreal but it is also important we build on the success and use it to build a platform for the future success of Irish hockey.”Shirley says that there have already been signs of a positive legacy after the team’s wonderful achievement.
“I think certainly most junior clubs have been inundated with membership requests, some even with waiting lists. Omagh, I know, had over 100 down to their opening night which is unheard of for a small Tyrone club and they’ve never had numbers like that before,” she explained.
“Ulster’s U15 Talent Programme commenced this week, which is the biggest undertaking we’ve had with 240 girls and boys across 12 groups across 12 weeks with over 30 coaches involved as well.”
Shirley remains non-committal about her international future, having initially said she would bring the curtain down on her career after the World Cup, with the Tokyo Olympic qualifying cycle next on the Ireland agenda.
“For now I have really been enjoying the break from international demands, I can fully commit to work programmes, and really go out and enjoy my club hockey with Pegasus. I really have not made any concrete decisions, it won’t be an easy one but whatever I decide I need to be at peace with it so we will see.” she said.