Ireland stalwart Shirley McCay retires from international hockey

33-year-old earned a record 316 caps as team went from obscurity to world elite level

Ireland World Cup silver medal winner Shirley McCay has decided to call time on her international career following a ground-breaking 14-year spell with the Irish women’s hockey team.

Since making her international debut in 2007, the 33-year-old from Drumquin in Tyrone has played in 316 internationals, a cap record for both hockey and for female sportswomen in Ireland.

A constant presence in Ireland’s rise from obscurity to the world’s elite levels, culminating in the 2018 World Cup final and a maiden appearance for the Irish women at the Tokyo Olympic Games, McCay is finally stepping down having threatened to retire several years ago.

A tough defender, she began playing at Omagh Academy before starring for a range of clubs, first with Randalstown and then with Ulster Elks, KHC Dragons in Belgium, Old Alexandra and Pegasus where she became an EY Champions Trophy winner.


Her international career was started by coach Gene Muller at the age of 18 for a series in Stellenbosch in January 2007. Since then, she has been virtually ever-present, missing just 37 of Ireland's capped games in 14 and a half years.

“Getting over the Rio disappointment, it kind of felt like there would never be a bigger stage to go out on a high. Then things turned out the way they did, a way no one expected it to.,” she said.

“With the silver medal, it gave us a much better ranking and a chance to qualify for the Olympics. I did not want to leave with any regrets for me or the team having come so far.”

Olympic qualification was sealed in November 2019 with qualification at Donnybrook Stadium, the games against Canada marking her 300th cap.

“We were disappointed in regard to reaching our main target of reaching the quarter-finals,” she says of Tokyo. “We had the capability of doing it but each team had those same dreams and that it why this is the toughest tournament.

“Even South Africa, with their limited preparation, showed some excellent hockey and there absolutely no easy games. Sure, the outcome was disappointing but the whole Olympic experience was filled with massive bucket-list moments.”

It is not the end of the sport for McCay, who now goes back to her job in Ulster as a Talent Coach.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times