It felt so familiar. A vital Ireland hockey match gone to penalties, and then the odds stacked well against us, and then all of the hope of the country teetering dangerously on the shoulders of Ayeisha McFerran, and then, miraculously, another heartstopping victory for Ireland.
Just like she had been during those balmy dogdays of 2018, thankfully Larne's Ayeisha McFerran was between the posts for Ireland last night. Fifteen months after carrying Ireland into a World Cup final, McFerran reprised her superhero act. She stopped 3 of the 6 penalties that came her way. Most importantly, she stopped the last three. When Ireland fell behind 3-1 in penalties, all seemed lost. Score with their fourth or fifth penalty and Canada were through. But McFerran did not concede again and now we are going to Tokyo.
I’m not crying. We all are! https://t.co/1hgtfmRUts
— Ayeisha McFerran (@Ayeeishaa) November 4, 2019
There is now ample evidence to suggest that Ayeisha McFerran is composed of slightly mightier matter to the rest of us. It's worth remembering just what she had to overcome in her teens to make it to this stage. Last summer, after finishing her degree at Louisville University in the US, McFerran spoke to Mary Hannigan of the Irish Times about many things, including her upbringing. McFerran's mother died from breast cancer eight years ago, when Ayeisha was 15. Her parents had separated and Ayeisha ended up in foster care.
I definitely used sport as a refuge. I was that crazy kid, endless energy, so when Mum was sick I couldn’t be bouncing around the house banging my head off the walls. So having sport was a release for all the anger I felt about everything that was going on. Why was this happening to us? All that.
“No matter what sport I played I was always considered a bit aggressive, I don’t know if that’s just me or whether it was about me taking my anger out because of what was happening. But it was definitely a release for me, I think I needed it at the time to figure out who I was as a person. I’ll always be thankful to my Mum for pushing me in to hockey because of the opportunities it has given me to be where I am today.
Teenage years are so pivotal for most sportspeople, and given the loss of a parent and the uncertainty of foster care, a lesser character might have walked away from sport entirely. Instead, after landing with a truly supportive family, McFerran found an outlet for dealing with the tragedy she was coping with.
“They were just told that they were getting a kid who played hockey, so they thought it was just school hockey on a Saturday morning. Little did they know it would involve trekking around the country, training every day of the week, endless journeys. But I was so fortunate that they were so supportive, I am very, very thankful for them, they really helped me on this journey.”
The goalkeeper in hockey is a uniquely challenging position. Thankfully one of the world's best goalkeepers is Irish. We won't find a trustier pair of hands to carry the tricolour into the Olympics Stadium next summer.