Hockey star setting sights on 2020 Olympics

Ayeisha McFerran.
Ayeisha McFerran.

Co Antrim sportswoman Ayeisha McFerran is setting her sights on the 2020 Olympics after last weekend's World Cup heroics.

The Larne woman and her Ireland hockey team-mates progressed to Sunday's final against the Netherlands after shoot-out wins over India and Spain.

And while the game ended with a 6-0 victory to their Dutch opponents, reaching the tournament's final stage was more than the squad had hoped for. "To say it's been surreal is an understatement," Ayeisha said. "We were the second-lowest ranked out of all of the teams and we had hoped to get to crossovers, potentially a quarter final.

"We were ecstatic to reach a World Cup final; it's really put Irish hockey on the map."

The tournament had extra resonance for the 22-year-old, who picked up the gong for best goalkeeper along with her World Cup silver medal.

Thanks to their recent success, the team has jumped up in the rankings, buoying hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. "We'll be off for a while playing for our separate clubs, but after that the next big thing would be the qualifiers and hopefully a one-off home game," Ayeisha said. "We're really looking forward to that."

The hockey star is currently taking a short break at home in Larne before flying back this Saturday to the US, where she is on a hockey scholarship at the University of Louisville.

"I'm studying Health and Human Performance and this will be my final year," she added.

As well as her college team, Ayeisha has lined out for Pegasus Hockey Club in Belfast.

It was during her school days, however that her skills in the sport were first honed. "I started playing when I was about eight or nine with Larne Ladies, then when I went to Larne Grammar I played all the way through."

Instrumental in helping Ayeisha's love of sport to flourish was her late mum, Sandra. "When I was growing up, I was one of those kids who had lots of energy, so she always encouraged me to try new things," she said. "She was always driving me to things like swimming, football or gymnastics; I did about nine or ten years of Irish dancing as well.

"She always wanted [me and my siblings] to succeed."