Golden day as Shirley McCay breaks Ireland caps record
Shirley McCay wrote herself into the hockey history books when she became Ireland's most capped player in Saturday's 5-0 win over the Czech Republic which clinched her team the gold medals at the European Championship II tournament in Prague.
The Ulster Elks player, who was making her 209th appearance in a green shirt, overtakes the previous best tally set by Loreto's Nikki Symmons.
Ireland had already achieved their objective of a top-two finish which earned them promotion back into Europe's top table at the first attempt.
The outcome provided some consolation after the heartbreak and pain of the team's failure to qualify for next year's Olympic Games in Rio.
Eleven of the players - including McCay - were on the losing side in the agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by China in Valencia but travelled to the Czech capital.
The 27-year-old paid tribute to the players' character as they bounced back, going through the tournament with a 100% record.
"We have shown immense character and mental resilience to do what we came to achieve and regain our A Division status," she said.
"Playing for Ireland has always been a gratifying and humbling experience for me and cap 209 was no different. I'm thrilled we could mark it with a win.
"To become the most capped female Irish player is an achievement of which I am extremely.
"Female athletes are gaining more recognition than ever before and I was delighted to be able to create history."
McCay's Ulster Elks team-mate Megan Frazer was named player-of-the tournament and scored one of the goals that helped put the host team to the sword.
Katie Mullan, who got on the end of McCay's sweep at a set-piece, broke the deadlock in the eighth minute and Frazer made it 2-0 when she converted a penalty stroke three minutes before half-time.
Ards striker Chloe Brown hit number four in the 38th minute after good work by Chloe Watkins and, after several chances had gone abegging, Naomi Carroll, with a tap-in and Emily Beatty with a fine solo effort, scored to complete an easy win.
Meanwhile, the Irish Under-18 boys retained their top flight European status when they finished an excellent fifth in their promotion season by whacking Russia 9-1 in their final game.
Coach Andy Smyth always believed in his players to achieve at this higher level and they did just that, losing just twice throughout the tournament in Santander, to eventual finalists Germany and Netherlands, and chalking up wins over Scotland (3-0), England (2-1) and Russia (9-1).
Scorers against the Russians were John Mullins (2), Julian Dale (2), Keith O'Hare, Zach McClelland, Ziggy de Bow Agnew, Callum Robson and Freddie Morris.