McClure eyes Shield glory after giving up on Irish dream
Sarah McClure could be tempted to think of what might have been when she leads holders Lurgan into Boxing Day's Denman Ulster Shield final against Queen's at Stormont (1pm).
Despite generally being regarded as one of the province's best players, McClure has never been invited into the Ireland senior set-up, and she is now resigned to playing out the rest of her career at club level.
Earlier this year, McClure's unquestionable ability was at least given recognition locally when she was named Ulster Female Player of the Year at the annual end-of-season awards bash.
However, the age profile of the Irish senior squad has dropped considerably in recent years and, at just 26, the dynamic midfielder has given up any hope of being given the opportunity to answer Ireland's call.
Queen's have two current Ireland players in their squad in the shape of teenagers Jessica McMaster and Erin Getty, but McClure isn't complaining about her predicament.
However, she believes lining out in the Ulster Premier as opposed to the Irish Hockey League isn't necessarily the best shop window for players to showcase their talent.
Lurgan coach Robbie McMinn actually contacted Ireland head coach Graham Shaw to suggest his captain might be worth at least an opportunity to impress in his extended training panel, but McClure's phone has yet to ring.
"I don't think non-IHL clubs get a fair deal in terms of selection opportunities for Ireland, although Jessica and Erin are exceptions," said McClure.
"There are some other very good players that are currently not playing for IHL teams and could potentially play on the senior team but, personally, it doesn't bother me that much as I'm too old now to play for Ireland."
McClure scored two of the goals in last year's 3-1 Shield final win over Queen's, but she regards Simon Bell's team as slight favourites going into the rematch on Tuesday.
"Queen's are a very good team with some very good individual players," she said.
"They were strong last season but the additions to their squad will obviously strengthen them even more this year.
"But we are all very excited about the game and, although we know it will be a very difficult match, we also know when we play well we can give anyone a run for their money.
"Winning the Shield for the first time in the club's history last year was an amazing feeling and a great achievement for all the players, coaches and supporters.
"It was a real boost for all the players, which gave us the push to keep going and performing in the league.
"Going on to do the double for the first time by winning the league for the second season in a row was the highlight of the season for me personally - it makes all the training and fitness worth it."
Queen's coach Bell has singled out McClure as the main threat to his team's ambitions of avenging last year's defeat as the students attempt to make it third time lucky, having lost to Randalstown in the previous year's final.
"Lurgan are a top side, our matches against them are always tight affairs and I don't imagine this one will be any different," he said.
"They have strengths right through their side and Sarah has consistently been one of the top players in the Premier League and is often a match winner for them.
"I think the big concern for both sides will be the very disrupted preparation in the run-up to the final.
"From our point of view, we will have gone over a month without a competitive fixture due to the weather, and we have also been hit by illness, injury and university assessments.
"We have played very well in some of our matches but we do tend to be a bit inconsistent and there is still lots of room for improvement.
"We were disappointed with how we played in last year's final, so hopefully this year we can make amends."
There is no women's senior programme this weekend due to the festive period.