Ulster woman Leah McGuire, formerly Ewart, has forced her way into contention for a place in Ireland’s World Cup squad after emerging from under the radar following five years in the international wilderness.
However, while she would jump at the opportunity should it come along, her main focus in life will always be her Christian faith.
The 24-year-old former Armagh defender, now with UCD, received a late call-up to the squad that took part in last week’s Tri-Nations tournament in Spain and played in three of Ireland’s matches against Belgium and the host team.
Those appearances doubled her previous caps-tally after she last played in 2012 in three games against Wales.
Leah’s faith is all-important and being a member of the ‘Christians in Sport’ organisation ticks both boxes in a prefect fit.
“Throughout my school years I got involved with Christians in Sport, which gave me a new perspective of how two major parts of my life; my faith in God and my love of sport can go hand in hand and didn’t have to be separate.” she said.
“I have always loved sports and had a competitive edge but I’d never thought about how that relates to being a Christian and sharing the gospel.
“Through attending Sports Plus camps run by Christians in Sport I began to realise God has made each of us unique, and for me that meant a love of sport and a special talent to play hockey.
“My ability was a gift from God that not only could I enjoy but that I could use to ‘witness’ or to point others to God by the way I play.
“Hockey was my mission field, to share the good news of how Jesus saved me and changed my life.
“When I started playing for UCD, having a Christian on the team was a new concept to many of the girls.
“It’s not always easy being a Christian in a sports team; there are club initiations, nights out, and a pressure to win at all costs.
“It’s been very encouraging to have two other Christians join the UCD team, Lena (Tice) and Bethany (Barr), as we can support one another.
“It has been great having some of the girls come to church with us, but our prayer remains that they may come to know and love Jesus, like we do.”
If she makes the World Cup squad, she will, no doubt, relish the opportunity to play in front of thousands of spectators in London, particularly against England in a game which is already a sell-out.
However, while giving her all on the hockey pitch through what she regards as a God-given talent, has got her this far, her primary aim in life is to please a much smaller audience.
“Every time I step on the pitch to train, win a match or lose, my desire is to give it my all as a way of saying thank you to God for giving me this ability.” Leah added.
“Whether I’m wearing the green jersey or my club colours, I ultimately play for an audience of one – God.
“Hockey has provided so many opportunities over the years to travel, to meet different people and to play with new team mates but what matters most to me is spending time with the girls, living out my faith and telling them about Jesus.
“Being a Christian allows me to enjoy playing hockey more, because when I mess up, don’t get selected, or go on a losing streak, while it is disappointing and frustrating it doesn’t change how God views me or how he loves me. This gives me a freedom to enjoy the game, in the good moments and the bad.”
Leah was recalled to the Ireland squad after impressing head coach Graham Shaw while playing for UCD this season and she would dearly love to make the cut for London, and, if she does she will give 100% for God and Ireland.
“From chatting with Graham, he seems very open-minded regarding the squad for the World Cup and there is a lot of training from now until then.” added the PhD student.
“It would obviously be very tough as there’s a lot of talent and depth currently in the squad and we all bring different things to the field.
“Ultimately it is my relationship with God that is at that centre of all that I do.
“I believe my ability to play hockey is a gift from God and I want to use it to the best of my ability to give thanks and to worship Him.
“That is always my desire so my mindset doesn’t change regarding selection for the World Cup.
“I will aim to give it my all for Him and if that leads to playing in London that would be incredibly special.”