McKay relishes Euro trip with champions Pegasus
Ireland's most capped player Shirley McCay will add a missing piece to the jigsaw next year when she makes her first appearance in a European club tournament with newly crowned EY Irish Hockey League champions Pegasus.
The Belfast side lifted the regulation season title for the first time since the competition's expanded format was introduced four seasons ago after hammering Muckross 6-0 at the Dub on Saturday.
McCay rated the title triumph as her biggest achievement in club hockey to date, despite having won back-to-back Irish Senior Cups with Ulster Elks in 2015 and 2016. However, she missed out on playing in Europe with the Jordanstown team in Prague in 2017 due to a broken finger, before joining Pegasus a couple of months later.
The 278-times capped Ireland defender is now looking forward to making her debut on the continent at club level, having played in four European Championships with Ireland.
McCay said: "To play in a Pegasus team that has won the league and qualified for European hockey is a huge moment for me and probably the biggest I've had in my club career so far."
"Pegasus are a fantastic club and have made me feel so welcome in the two years I've been with them so I'm absolutely delighted. It's huge to be playing in Europe and we've a fantastic squad so, hopefully, we can continue to build on this season.
"Pegasus have a lot of good young players coming up mixed in with a nice blend of experience, so the future is bright."
Pegasus will now go on to compete for the Irish Champions Trophy, contested by the top four EYIHL finishers in Banbridge at the start of May.
As things stand, Pegasus will be up against Cork Harlequins in the semi-finals, with Loreto meeting UCD in the other tie.
Team captain Michelle Harvey said: "We'll go into the tournament with no pressure, having already guaranteed ourselves European hockey next season.
"We have a break now and we then play Belfast Harlequins in our final match of the regulation season which will be good preparation for the Champions Trophy."
Pegasus needed only a point from the Muckross game to make sure the trophy would be heading to Ulster but they turned on the style to crush the youthful Dublin side.
Once Stephanie Thompson broke the deadlock in the 29th minute from a penalty corner, the floodgates opened, with Lucy McKee (2), Alex Speers, Caitlyn Harvey and Claire McKane adding further goals after the break.
Elsewhere, Ards remain a point ahead of Muckross at the bottom of the table but with a much better goal difference after losing 2-0 to Railway Union in Dublin. Belfast Harlequins, fielding a weakened side with nothing more than pride to play for, lost 2-1 away to Old Alex, Clare Stone with the consolation goal.
At domestic level, Lurgan can win the Ulster Premier League for the fourth year in a row if they beat Banbridge on Wednesday following the latter's 5-1 victory over Ballymoney.
Queen's are now the only team who can stop Lurgan after Irish international Jessica McMaster scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 comeback win over Rainey at the Dub.
There is no change at the other end of the table, with Randalstown ahead of Ballymena only on goal difference following draws with Ulster Elks and Mossley respectively as the bottom two prepare for a crucial showdown on Wednesday night.
EY Irish Hockey League: Cork Harlequins 2 (E Barber, R Barry) UCD 3 (M Carey, N Carey, A Russell); Old Alex 2 (A Connery 2) Belfast Harlequins 1 (C Stone); Pegasus 6 (L McKee 2, S Thompson, A Speers, C Harvey, C McKane) Muckross 0; Pembroke 1 (C Foley) Loreto 1 (S Twomey); Railway Union 2 (K Fearson, S Hawkshaw) Ards 0
IHL 2: Pool A: Corinthian 1 (I Maleady) UCC 2 (S O'Leary, A Bourke); Greenfields 0 Trinity 1 (I Delamer); Pool B: Dungannon 0 Catholic Institute 2 (E Ryan, R Pratt); Lurgan 2 (S McClure, E Lindsay) NUIG 2 (K Codyre, K Langan).
Ulster Premier League: Ballymena 1 (R McCluggage) Mossley 1 (R McCullough); Banbridge 5 (S Mount, S McCullough, P Haugh, O Magee 2) Ballymoney 1 (R Sutherland); Queen's 3 (J McMaster 3) Rainey 2 (A Heggarty, H Graham); Randalstown 0 Ulster Elks 0
Junior Finals: McConnell Shield: Queen's II 2 Belfast Harlequins II 1; Junior Cup: Ulster Elks III 0 Ballymoney III 1; Minor Cup: Lurgan IV 0 Limavady II 1; Intermediate Cup: Pegasus III 5 Rainey II 1