Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Deserved recognition for remarkable trio McCay, McFerran and Magee
What a sensational year it has been for hockey, and that is reflected in the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards as three Ulster stars — Ayeisha McFerran, Eugene Magee and Shirley McCay — were honoured at the glittering ceremony at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
Who could forget Ireland women’s silver medal success at the World Cup finals over the summer in London when six from Northern Ireland played major roles as the team ranked to finish second bottom ended up second top?
And who could forget the performances from goalkeeper McFerran, not only during the pool phase but in particular in the quarter-finals and semi-finals when she stood tall and thwarted India and then Spain in the penalty shoot-outs to help her team through to a totally unexpected place in the decider?
Those displays from the Larne girl earned her the World Cup’s Goalkeeper of the Tournament award and a nomination for world hockey’s Goalkeeper of the Year — and now they have landed her the Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year Gold Award.
McFerran began her hockey career at Larne Grammar and had spells with Randalstown and Pegasus before heading to America on a scholarship at Louisville University, where she became a four-time All-American representative with the Louisville Cardinals.
She couldn’t make the awards ceremony, though — she’s currently out in Chile with the Irish team preparing for the start of the Olympic qualifying process.
Banbridge’s Magee received a Special Recognition Award, as part of his achievement in becoming Ireland’s top-capped player with 277.
Olympic gold medallist Stephen Martin, though, had to be careful handing over the award as Eugene is recovering from a broken hand, which he received prior to heading out to India for Ireland’s World Cup campaign in November.
Magee took up hockey at Banbridge Academy and since then he was won numerous domestic and national medals with Bann as well as having successful spells with clubs in Australia, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
He played through the pain barrier during Ireland’s World Cup campaign in India, having helped them reach the finals for the first time in 28 years, and was also part of the squad that reached the Rio Olympics and earned European bronze in recent years.
The third hockey recipient was McCay, Ireland’s most-capped sportswoman on 273 caps, who received the Game Changer Award which recognises individuals who have had a positive impact on the Northern Ireland sporting landscape.
McCay is not only an outstanding player at club, provincial and international level, but she also puts so much back into the sport in her Ulster Hockey Talent Coach role.
She first burst onto the hockey scene when leading Omagh Academy to Belfast Telegraph Schools’ Cup success and since then she has lined out for her home town club as well as Randalstown, Ulster Elks and Pegasus, as well as Old Alex in Dublin and KHC Dragons in Belgium.
McCay won her first international cap against Canada in January 2007 and has gone on to become the record holder on 273, which came in the World Cup final against the Netherlands.
But dealing with the under-age talent in Northern Ireland gives her much enjoyment — as did Ulster Under-18 boys being a finalist in the Young Team of the Year category — and her work with kids from Primary School age through to 18 and 19 is ensuring a conveyor belt of talent for the province for years to come.