Antrim Hockey Player has become one of the best goalkeepers in the world
Frankly speaking, one of the world’s best shooters reveals some of his biggest life lessons, from the benefits of baking to why we could all use a little Dutch candor…
With the exception of a referee’s wristwatch, you won’t find a more reliable pair of hands in sport than Red Bull athlete and Irish women’s hockey goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.
A Jedi-like figure between the posts for Ireland and club SV Kampong in the Netherlands, she’s been making the impossible possible for some time now, including those now-iconic saves in the shoot-out against Canada that led the Ireland at its first Olympics.
And despite the team’s early exit from the tournament last summer, the Larne-born superstar didn’t hurt his rep with an eye-catching performance in Japan that even led to his international captain Katie Mullan hailing McFerran. as “the best goalkeeper in the world”. .
What makes her career so exceptional, however, is how she consistently overcame adversity. At age 15, McFerran’s mother died of breast cancer and the youngster was sent to foster care. Rather than wilt, she persevered, rising to the top of the domestic game with Belfast side Pegasus, with whom she won the 2014-15 league title.
In 2015, her talent took her to the United States when she won a field hockey scholarship to the University of Louisville in Kentucky, majoring in sports marketing and ending up on the team of the year. college for four consecutive years.
A real Hollywood story? Almost. The 26-year-old still has work to do with SV Kampong and is keen to help Ireland both win a World Cup and get to other Olympics (“It took me a lot of time to be proud of my performance last summer – but we are getting there slowly…”). You wouldn’t put it in front of her – but then who does?
Here are some of his biggest life lessons to date…
My freshman year at college in America was a real test
“The first year was difficult. I moved to a new country but returned to Ireland regularly with the national team so it was difficult to bond. All sports have an academic advisor who helps you plan your school work in an effort to achieve a high GPA – every week you hear about American football and basketball players who are ineligible for games because they don’t get the grades – but it’s still hard. I’m not very good with books, so I had to sacrifice a few evenings. I always wondered, ‘What do I need to do this week to keep my scholarship?’ »
Playing in Holland gave me a no bullshit mentality
“The frankness I met with my Dutch teammates [at SV Kampong] was definitely a shock at first. If I wasn’t good at training, someone would tell me outright, and it took me a while to realize they were doing it with good intentions, not out of spite. It’s calling a spade a spade, some days you’re not good and that’s okay, you can’t be perfect every time. It’s actually refreshing because if one of them compliments me, I know they mean it. It’s better than beating around the bush like we tend to do at home. Now it’s like ‘If I was shit, tell me I’m shit!
I learned to stop fighting as a player
“Every time the Dutch players make a bad pass or catch the ball badly, they turn around and continue. You never see them stressing out. While we, the Irish team, are like ‘Ah sorry, my mistake’. We’re getting a bit better, but we overthink the little things. It’s a healthy attitude to have when something doesn’t go as planned, we’re always going to make the problem worse in our head. It could be missing an exam or being late – okay, I hate people being late, but that’s not all you are as a human or what you’re trying to accomplish. Things happen, keep going and that mental stress behind.
During a shootout, I drown it all out
“You’re so determined to do your job well in a shootout that you walk away from everything else, the noise, the cheering. I’m so focused on this person coming at me that eight seconds can feel like a minute. I’m remember the first two shots [in the Olympic qualifier shootout vs Canada] in Dublin were terrible for me, I was so static. I wasn’t focused enough. My strength is my movement, but I was there like a cone. When we were down 3-1, I said to myself ‘Come together, this is the business, come on’. It was like an out body experience – you know when someone gives you a good jolt to wake you up? I had to do this to myself and it worked. »
A sports psychologist helped me love hockey again
“A few years ago, just before that qualification in Dublin, I got to the point where I hated hockey and it was like a chore. I worked with a sports psychologist in Ireland and found out it was because I put everything into hockey and had nothing else. When you think about something 24/7, no matter how much you love it, you’re going to hate it. I realized that I hadn’t played for myself but for others, and that would make me play worse than I am capable of, I would be frustrated or even injured because I tried too hard. It’s a vicious cycle, so I took a step back and found something else on the side.
Coming from a tough background, it’s hard to ask for help
“You are so used to having to fight, to figure it all out yourself and to drive yourself. It’s not even about people who have been in foster care but maybe had problems at home, there are so many people from different walks of life who have to be independent because they don’t have no choice. You don’t want to ask because you find it difficult, even something like where to eat. I always find it hard to ask for help because I want it done the way I know I can do it and so I know I’m in control, but actually the more networks you build the more you’ll see that people just want to help. Building connections is everything. I have more value in helping others and seeing them succeed.
I’m already planning my post-hockey career
“I know hockey is only going to last so I recently started a course in digital marketing. Everything has something to do with marketing, from the teaspoon in your cupboard to corporate branding, so once again I find myself juggling school and sports. Last year I worked a bit as a personal trainer, but I realized it wasn’t for me, I just didn’t want to do the same thing every day. The human body is the human body, it will not change. What I want to do is interact with lots of people and be creative.
Two-hour study blocks are the only way to study
“I’m a type A person. I like to be structured, I need to be organized, I need to see my tasks in front of me to plan accordingly. When it’s time to study after practice, I literally have to turn everything off. My phone is on airplane mode and I’m not reachable, so I’m going to sit for a two-hour block to work. I do a lot more and feel more productive than I would giving myself a whole day to study, where I’m kind of going to do 10 minutes of study and then 10 minutes of relaxation. The hardest part is always sitting down, but once I’m seated it’s like “let’s go”.
When life gives me lemons, I make lemon cake
“Playing on a team means I get to spend a lot of time with other people, which I love, but sometimes it takes alone time. That’s when you’ll find me eating Netflix on the couch or in the kitchen, which I can do at my own pace. It gives me time to figure things out, to think and also not to think, to disconnect and go with the flow. Some of my best thinking is done when baking a triple chocolate fudge cake, as every international athlete should! My dream is to one day be on
I never try to let a day go to waste
“If you don’t like something, you’re not going to put all your effort into it and it will feel like a chore. Life is so precious, so why waste your time doing something you don’t want to do or deprive yourself of energy when there are so many other things you can explore? You never know what will happen tomorrow.