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Shirley McCay shrugs off Ireland cap record as all eyes are fixed on Olympic qualification


Forward thinking: Shirley McCay (right) hopes to be among the scorers instead of celebrating with them as Ireland prepare to face Singapore at Banbridge’s Havelock Park
Forward thinking: Shirley McCay (right) hopes to be among the scorers instead of celebrating with them as Ireland prepare to face Singapore at Banbridge’s Havelock Park

By John Flack

Shirley McCay will set a new caps record today when she lines out for Ireland in an unfamiliar role against Singapore at the FIH Hockey Series in Banbridge.

The 31-year-old Ulster woman will be making her 281st international appearance, overhauling Eugene Magee, who set the previous milestone last week when playing against France.

However, McCay is set to play up front today instead of in her usual position in the Irish defence which she also occupies at club level with Pegasus.

The Omagh woman has been moved up the pitch by interim head coach Gareth Grundie, who feels she can make a useful contribution in the attack.

The former Ards boss said: "In terms of our shape, moving Shirley up just gives us a bit more of a threat going forward.

"That means we can have a few more numbers getting into the 25 and she can deliver a few good passes from the flanks."

Ireland have won their opening two matches in the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process and require only the formality of a draw against Singapore today to progress to the semi-finals of the competition.

Having thumped the Czech Republic 8-1 on Sunday, following a 2-1 opening win against Malaysia, Ireland will be fancied to clock up double figures this afternoon.

When the teams last met at a World Cup qualifier in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, Ireland won 10-0 and Singapore were thrashed 12-0 by Malaysia in Banbridge on Sunday.

So it wouldn't be a surprise if McCay got on the scoresheet with a rare goal from open play in her new role, just like she did in last week's warm-up game against India Under-21s in Dublin.

She says she is enjoying her new position although it's very much horses for courses, and against stronger opposition she is likely to be moved back to more familiar territory.

"It's probably a wee bit more hard work than playing in the back line but, from a personal point of view, it's great to have some more attacking options and I certainly enjoy it," she said.

"Gareth had said to me before the tournament that he was keen to see me in a more attacking role and maybe use my ability closer to the forward line and that's something I have embraced.

"As far as the caps tally goes, it's not something I give a lot of thought to as we are all completely focused on the team objective and that is to get to Tokyo."

McCay believes it's important that Ireland keep the momentum going following the big win over the Czechs, in which Anna O'Flanagan hit four of the goals.

Their semi-final opponents will be determined later in the week but whoever the opposition might be - a rematch with Malaysia is a possibility - it will be tougher than today's game.

Megan Frazer, one of seven Ulster players in the squad, may be used sparingly today - or perhaps not at all - as she recovers from a long season in Germany and a handful of injury niggles.

The Londonderry woman didn't play the last quarter of the Czech game as a precaution.

Ireland will need to win their semi-final on Saturday to progress to the final stage of Olympic qualifying.

Today's FIH Series matches (Havelock Park, Banbridge): Pool A: Malaysia v Czech Republic (12pm); Ireland v Singapore (2pm).

Pool B: Korea v France (4pm); Ukraine v Scotland (6pm).

Belfast Telegraph


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