Name: Shirley McCay
Age you began playing: 13
Teams represented: Omagh, Randalstown, Ulster Elks, Dragons HC
International Caps: 224
Tell us how you got into hockey and who influenced you the most to play?
I started playing hockey when I went to Secondary school, mainly as our PE teacher was a hockey fanatic and it was the main sport played at our school. I played lots of different sports, was a massive football fan but when I started to play hockey I fell in love with the game. My PE was definitely a major influence on my hockey career, she still comes to watch me play for Ireland!
ON THE GAME
During peak season, give us an idea of a weekly training / match schedule:
We would normally train as a squad in Dublin for 4/5 hours on a Sunday. Monday would be club session and conditioning. Tuesday is gym and a regional pitch session, Wednesday same as Monday, Thursday gym and any extra conditioning we need to do. Friday is a rest day and Saturday is a club game.
Proudest performance / moment on the pitch:
Probably beating the USA in our Olympic Qualifying tournament in Valencia in 2015. No one expected us to get a result so it was a fantastic day and we played out of our skins.
Most heart breaking moment on the pitch (defeat/ injury):
I have had a couple! In 2015 we were in a qualification match versus China to go to the Rio Olympics. We went a goal down early but equalized to take the match to penalties, were we lost on sudden death by the width of a post. it was a really cruel way to go out, our years of hard work came down to that moment so it was very hard to take.
How do you handle losing? Do you have any advice on how to handle being defeated?
I think as I have got older I have become (slightly!) better at coping with losing and defeat. It’s part and parcel of the game, and if you are constantly in a state of comfort where you win every game and things are easy, then you never actually grow and push yourself. Being defeated by world class teams is really just a learning curve for the next time you play them. What’s important though in a team environment is to recognise that no two people are the same so everyone will handle defeat and cope with it in their own way, so it’s important to respect that. I think some advice would be to use those defeats as a lesson learnt, and look to strive to improve or mistakes small mistakes for the next game.
Would you change anything about your sport? If yes, what and why:
I think there is often a huge disparity in terms of funding given to international hockey teams, which invariably means the ‘rich get richer’ and the ‘poor get poorer’. International hockey players in Ireland do not get paid to play for their country, and more often than not end up out of pocket. We train as amateur athletes but also try to hold down full time jobs to earn a living. Other top hockey nations are funded to such an extent that they can train centrally, as full time athletes without other distractions of financial restraints. This means they are improving at a higher rate and therefore should be able to compete and win against the best. They also have constant access to world class facilities and support. You only have to look at the GB ladies hockey team for a prime example of this.
You’re a Talent Coach at Ulster Hockey, tell us about this position:
I came into post in September 2013 and it is a new job, ie there has been no one else fulfilling this role before me. This was ideal as it was basically a blank canvas and I could shape it how I wanted.
Basically my role is to work with top underage talent in Ulster Hockey. As well as continuing our underage programmes already in place, I have implemented systems at Primary School and under 13 level in order to encourage more kids to take up and play hockey at a young age, and to try and retain them as aspiring hockey players at they go into secondary education. I work with kids from aged 10 right up to 18/19.
My summers are spent implementing Talent Camps right across Ulster. I also am involved with our underage performance programmes, at U16, 17, 18 and U21 level. These involved Inteprovincial tournaments, and trips to play England, Scotland and Wales at all age groups.
Is it hard to balance coaching and playing?
A lot of people always ask me this and you would imagine it would be difficult or I’d get sick of it but I actually find they are so different that it doesn’t really feel like I should get sick of the game. My job is every changing, no two days are the same, and I have managed to find a really good work/life balance so that I can enjoy my time spent away from the pitch. My really good friends are also my team mates, and the kids I work with are enthusiastic and as passionate as I am, so I really can’t complain!
Most fun part of the job:
Getting to go away on trips to play different teams, it’s what all the preparation is for! Also meeting lots of talented young players who are really keen to improve and learn.
What training exercise do the players hate the most? (If any)
Probably anything that involves a huge amount of slog/defending, it’s not the most glamorous side of the game and no one ever seems to want to take a bib and be a defender!
What are your coaching goals? Short term / long term:
Short term I would like to have success with my under 18 boys and under 16 girls who I am head coach of.
Long term, I’d like to just keep learning from talented coaches that I look up to and admire.
Female sporting hero and why:
Jess Ennis, how she has had a child and come back to be such an amazing athlete again is just baffling!
If you didn’t play hockey what would sport you love to do?
What sporting advice would you give your younger self?
To appreciate every opportunity, oh and to write them all down cos you forget those little moments when you’re older!