Every big tournament has a breakout star. A player who grabs the opportunity by the scruff of the neck and shows the world what they’re capable of on the biggest stage. If you’ve seen any of Ireland’s games in their remarkable run to the semi-finals of the Hockey Women’s World Cup you’ll already know that the breakout star of this tournament is goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.
McFerran already has a piece of Irish hockey history to her name: She was the youngest goalkeeper to represent her country, putting on the pads in a senior international game the day after she turned 18 for a match against Spain – the Green Army’s World Cup semi-final opponents. Those in the know in Ireland have been tipping the goalkeeper from Larne for super stardom for a while but now, with a series of eye-catching displays at the World Cup now everyone has taken notice.
“She’s been a brilliant goalkeeper for a long time but it’s during this tournament we’re really starting to see her fulfilling her potential.” said teammate Anna O’Flanagan in the wake of Ireland’s shootout win over India. Coach Graham Shaw went even further in his praise for McFerran saying “When it went to shootout I knew we had a great chance because of how good our goalkeeper is.”
High praise indeed.
The pedigree of Ireland’s goalkeepers should perhaps come as little surprise. Davey Harte has been named FIH World Goalkeeper of the Year twice and is a key figure in Dutch side Kampong’s success, whilst even as far back as the likes of Emma Gray the Green Army have been able to boast solid No1s. McFerran and Harte can lay claim to being two of the top performers in their position right now, but what is down to?
“Nidge.” comes the slightly puzzling reply from McFerran when asked for the secrets to her success. “Nidge” it turns out is Nigel Henderson, former Pembroke No1 and now Ireland’s goalkeeping coach.
“Nidge is phenomenal.” beams McFerran. “The amount of work he puts in with the goalkeepers on the pitch and mentally too, he’s amazing. Whenever I’ve struggled he’s been able to help me to overcome whatever’s troubling me. The training he gives us is second to none and he’s the reason so many good goalies come out of Ireland.”
“We’re really grateful to him for his work and without him Ireland wouldn’t have so many good goalkeepers. Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Barring something catastrophic in the semi-final McFerran *should* be named goalkeeper of the tournament when all is said and done on Sunday after the final. Wherever Ireland wind up in the standings the young goalkeeper’s reputation has been significantly enhanced on one of the biggest stages there is.
Whatever Nidge is doing is clearly working.