The World is at our feet, says Irish hockey ace Ayeisha McFerran
Former Randalstown and Pegasus goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran expects to be kept on her toes as Ireland chase their dream of competing in a World Cup for the first time since 1994.
That's something she was used to in her younger days when she spent nine years as a keen and talented exponent of Irish dancing - something she believes has helped her establish herself as the girls in green's No.1 keeper, strange though the connection may seem.
The 21-year-old Larne woman will shortly commence the third year of a hockey scholarship at the University of Louisville and was due to fly out with the rest of the Irish squad today for the World League 3 tournament in Johannesburg, which doubles up as a qualifier for next year's World Cup in London.
"I took my Irish dancing very seriously, competing in festivals throughout the country, and I think that's what helped me with my quick feet which is an important aspect of hockey goalkeeping," explained the sports studies scholar.
"I've been told I run very much on my toes now because of it but in the end I had to finish dancing to try and narrow down what I wanted to do and that fortunately ended up being hockey."
McFerran also believes the top-class goalkeeping tuition she receives in Kentucky has been instrumental in making her the player she is today.
The Louisville head coach, Justine Sowry, kept goal for Australia 128 times and was a World Cup winner in 1994 and 1998. She also competed in two Olympic Games.
"Justine has so much knowledge and different points of views compared to coaches in Ireland, so it can be refreshing to hear her at times," McFerran said.
"In the United States, we are treated like professional athletes but that means training as one too.
"My week is pretty hectic before I add academics or anything else in and I normally would have five training sessions with the team, which would start at 7am and last about three hours.
"We would also have two games every weekend, normally a Friday and Sunday, and between all this I would normally fit in at least two conditioning sessions, but going to America was the best decision I have ever made."
McFerran believes Ireland have a great chance of making it to the World Cup as they prepare to face Japan, Germany, Poland and England, needing to finish a modest fourth in their pool for starters if they are to be in with a chance of progressing from the qualifier, which runs from July 8-23.
"We have proven over the past 18 months that we are able to compete with the top teams in the world and achieve positive results by outplaying them," said the 58-times capped keeper (left).
"We have such a good vibe throughout the group and believe we are capable of achieving our dream, so it all begins with us as a collective."