Shirley McCay: Why I almost quit Ireland after World Cup silver medal
Shirley McCay has revealed that she was toying with the idea of quitting international hockey even after Ireland's magnificent achievement at last year's World Cup.
Now, though, for the proud possessor of a silver medal from London, it's full steam ahead with the countdown on for the Olympic qualifier against Canada at Donnybrook at the start of November.
Before the double-header, McCay should become the first Irish sportswoman to break the 300-cap barrier with six warm-up games to come against China and Germany.
Currently five short of the milestone, the 31-year-old Pegasus defender will reach it in the first of two games against the Germans in early October, provided she stays injury-free.
However, she could easily have quit the sport after the World Cup, which was originally planned to be her international swansong, only to have had a change of heart.
McCay explained: "On more than one occasion I thought my time was done and I just didn't see that it was an option to stay on.
"But I suppose having that little bit of time away when I took a few months off after the World Cup, I felt I'd have regrets if I didn't give it one last go.
"The jump in the world rankings after London gave us as big an opportunity as we'll ever have before to qualify for an Olympics with the home draw, so here I am now."
McCay will be attempting to banish the bitter memories of three previous failures to qualify for the showpiece, dating back to 2008 when a shock defeat by Italy ended the dream.
Then a 4-1 defeat by Belgium four years later, when a win would have seen Ireland qualify, was followed by the heartache of Valencia in 2015 when a penalty shoot-out loss to China denied them a place in Rio.
However, while McCay is happy that Ireland have been drawn to face Canada, she is under no illusions how difficult an assignment it will be even with home advantage.
She added: "Canada are a team on the rise and it's going to be tough against them, especially seeing as jet-lag and travelling halfway around the world to play us isn't a factor as some people might think.
"Their players are all based on the continent and playing their club hockey in the likes of Belgium, Holland and Germany and then coming together to train as an international squad.
"They had their funding cut, so they have all made huge sacrifices and they will be gunning for us come the start of November.
"In contrast, our increased level of funding has had a massive impact but we won't exactly know about how important it has been until those qualifiers.
"Softco and Park Developments have allowed us to go to much more of a full-time programme and that allows much more contact time to train, push each other hard and have some flexibility with work commitments.
"At the moment, we are training three days a week from Sunday through to Tuesday, and that will probably intensify soon."
Weekend fixtures: Ulster Premier League: Tomorrow: Mossley v Banbridge (7pm); Lisnagarvey v Queen's (8pm); Dungannon v Ballymoney (2.30pm); Lurgan v Rainey (2.30pm);Raphoe v Randalstown (1pm).