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Shirley McCay focused as she nears 300-cap milestone with Ireland

 

Big moment: Shirley McCay is currently on 290 Ireland caps
Big moment: Shirley McCay is currently on 290 Ireland caps

By John Flack

Shirley McCay is set to become the first Ireland hockey international, male or female, to reach the magical 300-cap mark over the next couple of months.

Currently on 290 appearances in the green shirt - one more than Banbridge star Eugene Magee - McCay will reach the milestone in the first of two away games against Germany in early October.

Before that, the 31-year-old Pegasus defender will add five caps to her tally at the European Championships, which begins on Sunday in Antwerp.

Next on the agenda after the trip to Belgium are four internationals against China in Dublin in late September.

Those games, and the two against Germany, will represent the build-up to a two-legged Olympic qualifier against opposition still to be determined in late October or early November.

However, while McCay is looking forward to making history, assuming she stays injury-free, her immediate priority is the European Championship.

Ireland start their campaign against England on Sunday before taking on Belarus and Germany in Pool B of the tournament.

Winning the Belarus game is likely to hold the key to the team's chances of survival in the top-flight of European competition in two years' time.

However, if Ireland can spring a surprise on England in their opening match and also beat Belarus, then a semi-final place would be a strong possibility for last year's World Cup silver medallists.

McCay, one of six Ulster players in the squad, said: "It's a very different tournament from the World Cup when we had a lot of rest days between most of the games.

"At the Europeans, we will play five matches in just eight days and it's vitally important we get off to a good start.

"England will obviously be tough, and we have had a good build-up with seven matches since the FIH Hockey Series in Banbridge in June."

Ireland's men start their campaign on Saturday when they face a likely damage-limitation exercise against Netherlands.

Next up is a crucial game against lower-ranked Scotland on Sunday before playing Germany in their final pool game.

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