Two of Ireland’s World Cup heroines have Ayeisha McFerran and Anna O’Flanagan have warmly welcomed Hockey Ireland’s new bursary scheme but she hopes that it is merely the start of a process that ultimately leads to a full-time professional set-up for the national women’s team.
The new initiative may also play a role in influencing the pair’s next move at club level as they consider their options, one of which might now be to stay in Ireland rather than move abroad or stay there in Anna’s case.
Dublin real estate firm, Park Developments, has come up with a timely four-year financial package which will fund the bursaries for Ireland’s women as they bid for a place at an Olympic Games for the first time.
The first stage of the qualifying process takes place at Banbridge next month when Ireland require a top-two finish in the face of lower-ranked opposition to progress to the final eliminator.
The new sponsorship deal will facilitate an increase in contact hours, with 23 top players being compensated to allow them to go into training camps for three days a week and not be out of pocket.
The 23-year-old Larne woman performed heroics in London last August earning her the goalkeeper-of-the-tournament award.
She said: “It’s great that Park Developments have come on board and given this opportunity to train more together,”
“We welcome it with open arms but we definitely still need more support I feel if we are to make that big step to going to a fully professional level.
McFerran has has yet to sign for a club.
After her heroics at the World Cup, she wasn’t short of offers to play outside of Ireland but she revealed that staying at home is now a possibility, influenced by the bursary scheme which makes that option more attractive.
She added: “My main priority is to get back to work with the girls and then I will worry about going abroad or staying here as I decide what is the best situation for myself and Irish hockey.”
Anna O’Flanagan has played in Holland over the past couple of seasons and she, too, is undecided about her future at club level.
But one thing she is sure about is that the new bursary scheme is a a very welcome development.
“It’s such a great announcement, it’s something that we’ve always wanted as players, to get that little bit of financial help, it’s definitely a starting point for us as a team,” said Anna, scorer of Ireland’s goals against India in the first phase and Spain in the quarter-finals in London.
“It means that I have some decisions to make as to whether I stay abroad or move back to Ireland. With that support we can definitely train more like full-time.
“That’s the kind of foundation we need to go forward. Before the World Cup a few of us stopped working completely and you can’t do that forever. It’s not sustainable for your career but also from a mental point of view. “It’s good to have other things outside of hockey and this allows us to have a mixture of everything.”