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Olympic Games delay is right call but it could end my career: Shirley McCay


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Shirley McCay

Shirley McCay

Shirley McCay

Shirley McCay believes the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic was the right decision - but it has left her with a personal dilemma.

Ireland's most-capped sportswoman had always insisted that she would bring down the curtain on her international hockey career in Japan this summer after a U-turn on her plans to quit following the 2018 World Cup when she picked up a silver medal in London.

It would have been the ideal send-off for McCay, who has won 306 caps for Ireland and was instrumental in helping book their Olympic debut last November in a dramatic shoot-out win over Canada in Dublin.

The 31-year-old had suffered the heartache of three unsuccessful attempts to qualify, dating back to the 2008 Games in Beijing.

However, McCay admits she is undecided about her international future now that the Olympics have been put on hold.

"It's too early to say and I am not thinking that far ahead because, for now, it's about getting through the next few weeks safely and keeping my family safe too," explained the Pegasus defender.

"Regarding the decision to postpone the Olympics, it's definitely good to get some clarity and not have to wait another few weeks for a decision once and for all.

"It's the right decision for everyone's health, safety and preparation and settles some uncertainty.

"Everyone is obviously gutted - no one more so than me - but there's a big picture here for everyone."

The first Lady of Northern Ireland sport, Mary Peters, welcomed the decision, saying the local athletes and competitors affected are in her thoughts.

Lady Mary's sporting life has been intertwined with the Games, having won Olympic gold at Munich in 1972 and managed the GB women's team at Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984.

She responded to the news, saying: "I am glad the Games have been put back a year in the circumstances.

"It was inevitable amid all the restrictions on travel and movement and athletes unable to train as a result.

"A man said to me recently, 'Why don't they cancel the Games? It's only sport'. I replied, 'If they do that, the Games might never be back'. In a best case, it would mean eight years between Olympics which would mean the end of many careers.

"I think of competitors like Shirley McCay, who will be able to play hockey in Tokyo in a year's time but not in four. We also have Ciara Mageean coming to her peak as an athlete for these Games and she will now have to maintain her standards for another year.

"Others who have been training hard with their targets and focus set firmly on this summer may not make it next year and it will be devastating for them but overcoming this global pandemic is the priority right now.

"For others there will be a silver lining, like our runner Kerry O'Flaherty, from Newcastle. Kerry suffered an ankle injury which would have put her out of this year's Games but she now has 2021 to aim for.

"Understand, though, that the results will be different than if the Games had gone ahead this year. The margins in terms of peaking at a particular time are very fine. Days can make a difference, never mind a year.

"When I won my medal in 1972, I had begun a training programme exactly a year in advance of the final date.

"Then, at Munich, we had the terrible terrorist attack which meant some competitions were delayed for days. My finals went ahead on the scheduled date but others did not and outcomes were different as a result.

"Times like then and now remind us that human life is the paramount consideration. The Games have not been lost, merely postponed for good reason."

Ireland hockey captain Katie Mullan, meanwhile, says her side are 'gutted' at the decision.

The Irish women's hockey team had qualified for the Olympics for the first time ever by seeing off Canada in a two-legged play-off in November.

Since then, everything had been geared towards Tokyo this summer.

First, though, their training camp in Malaysia was cancelled before warm-up games against China in Dublin were also called off as the Games were thrown into ever-increasing doubt.

Now, at least, the uncertainty is over and Ballymoney player Mullan says the squad realise that the correct decision has been made.

"As players we are gutted as our excitement has been building, however we totally understand," she said. "What matters most is players' health and wellbeing, as well as our families and friends, and we hope everyone is staying safe and healthy.

"As a team it has been strange doing so much individual training, but everyone has been pushing on with home-gym programmes and trying to increase fitness with running and cycling.

"This is a big change for so many people, but everyone is in the same situation. We'll be doing our best to use this as an opportunity."

Ireland, of course, were going into the Games off the back of the World Cup silver medals they won in August 2018.

Head coach Sean Dancer said the squad are already eagerly anticipating the resumption of their preparations.

"Our athletes are continuing to train as much as possible given the current circumstances, and we really look forward to being able to train together as a group again," he said.

"The decision to postpone the Games not only puts athletes' welfare first, but also the welfare of much wider communities and countries. These are unprecedented times and while incredibly stressful, the decision to postpone is one we support."

Belfast Telegraph