Dromore girl Kerri McDonald is set to become a full Irish international.
The ex-Banbridge Academy pupil, who helped her club Ards to an historic double last season, has received a call-up to the senior Ireland squad for the European Hockey Championship II tournament in Prague from 18-26 July.
And she is absolutely delighted about it.
“Initially I was so shocked and couldn’t quite believe it,” she told the ‘LEADER.’
“But I was so happy and also a bit relieved to see that a lot of hard work has paid off. I will probably be a bit nervous when I step onto the pitch for the first time but I think it will also be a very proud moment, for me and for my parents.”
McDonald’s new team-mates are coming off the back of disappointment in their bid to qualify for the Olympics but the new girl is hoping she can help usher in a new era of success, starting next week.
“Our targets are now long term,” she said. “We hope to finish in the top two to gain promotion from B Division to A Division, but we are currently ranked above the rest of the teams, so hopefully a promotion and a win is well within our sights.”
The 21 year-old has plenty of experience to draw on. This call-up is the latest in McDonald’s career of highlights. She has represented Ulster and Ireland at every under age level while she also got a scholarship to the University of Richmond in Virginia.
“Hopefully that experience will stand me in good stead for the tournament, but the standard will definitely be up a few gears so I need to make sure I’m really on my game,” she said. “But I’m really looking forward to playing at that level for the first time.”
McDonald jetted off the US after finishing her A levels at Banbridge Academy and had a ball during her two years in America before returning home to continue her studies.
“Richmond was an amazing experience which allowed me the opportunity to travel across different states playing hockey and also being treated like a semi-professional athlete whilst studying at college,” she said. “I’m now just finished my first year at Stranmillis University College where I’m studying Primary Education, which is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Back on the hockey pitch, McDonald has enjoyed a tremendous 2015 so far, helping Ards to an historic double last season before receiving her first Ireland call-up.
“I moved to Ards last season as they’re one of the top teams in Ulster and I wanted to improve my game,” she said. “We had a very successful season winning the All-Ireland Indoor Championships, retaining the Ulster Shield and winning the Ulster Premier League for the first time in 51 years.
“It really has been a great year and now we look forward to playing in the new All Ireland League which no doubt be a step up from the Premier League in Ulster. It’ll be exciting to see how this league transforms Irish Hockey.”
Now cementing her place as the latest local international hockey star, McDonald is keen to pay tribute to her local club and her school for all their help along the way.
She said: “I grew up playing at Dromore LHC and Banbridge Academy. Dromore is a great club that has a very successful and ever-growing junior development. I played there from I was 10 to 15 and even when I left, they continued to stay in touch and support me.
“I’m going back in September to coach a junior team and looking forward to giving back to the club a small part in comparison to what they gave to me.
“I also owe a lot of thanks to Banbridge Academy, where I played all throughout my time there. Playing school hockey is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have and it’s unfortunate that it’s one you’ll never be able to do again.”
McDonald could make her Ireland debut on Saturday when the side begin their campaign against France. The next day, they take on Ukraine and face the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
After that, they will play the classification matches on Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th, when McDonald is hoping she will be part of a victorious side.