Ireland’s record caps holder in hockey has said being made an MBE is “surreal, but very special”.
Shirley McCay, 33, who played 316 times for Ireland and appeared at the Tokyo Olympics, has been made an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to hockey and the community in Northern Ireland.
Originally from Drumquin in Co Tyrone, Ms McCay learned to play hockey at Omagh Academy before representing the Irish under 16 and under 18 sides and won her first senior cap in 2007.
Playing in defence, she was a key member of the Irish team which finished runner-up in the World Cup in 2018.
She now works as the talent manager at Ulster Hockey for the underage boys’ and girls’ programmes.
She said: “It has been a long journey. We went to the Olympics in Tokyo last year which was amazing.
“There was a lot of uncertainty around whether it would go ahead at all which made it all the more special in the end.
“There were no friends or family there to support us but it was amazing, it was very sweet.”
Ms McCay recalled the moment when she discovered that she was to be honoured for her sporting career.
She said: “I was actually in Belfast shopping and my sister sent me a picture of this very majestic looking envelope.
“All I could think about was what trouble I had got into. What speeding fine or whatever I had got.
“When she opened up the letter and sent me pictures of it, it was all very exciting and surreal, completely unexpected but very special.”
She said she hopes the honour will help to increase the profile of hockey in Ireland.
“It is about the exposure and visibility for hockey, putting it on the map.
“A lot of schools in Ireland play hockey, particularly for the girls. It is just about getting the message out there and promoting the game.
“I am very grateful to be in a job that I love and it is so nice for me to give those opportunities to young girls and boys to explore their dreams and give them the best possible experience.”