By Matt Bradshaw —
Field hockey began ACC play with a 3-1 loss to No. 2 North Carolina. After the match, the Tarheels’ head coach spoke about Louisville senior goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.
“I don’t think it’s arguable,” Karen Shelton said. “[McFerran] is the best goalkeeper in the world according to all the teams that were at the World Cup.”
Over the summer, McFerran played in the cage for her native Ireland at the 2018 Field Hockey Women’s World Cup. She was named Best Goalkeeper of the tournament after helping to lead her country to a silver medal.
“We knew that [McFerran] was gonna be a factor coming in, so we tried to talk about ways to score on her,” Shelton said. “Whenever you play Louisville, you have to worry about how you’re going to score goals.”
UNC topped U of L by two goals but the match was closer than the final score indicated. McFerran kept the Cardinals within striking distance with six saves by the end of the game.
It’s no secret that McFerran is valuable in tight contests against tough opponents. Her performance at the World Cup cemented her status as an All-American.
“[Ireland] was very lucky to even make the World Cup,” Louisville head coach Justine Sowry said. “It was a miracle run, and the biggest reason was Ayeisha McFerran.”
Ireland entered the tournament ranked No. 16 in the world, making their first appearance in the World Cup since 2002. McFerran was instrumental in the Green Army’s historic run, surrendering only three goals in their first five matches.
The Larne, Northern Ireland native dominated a pair of shootout victories as her team entered the finals to face No. 1 Netherlands. The Dutch captured the goal medal 6-0, but not before Ireland made history with their cinderella story.
The 2018 Irish National Hockey Team became the first in the nation’s history to reach the World Cup finals. After her game-changing performance, selecting McFerran as Best Goalkeeper of the tournament was a no-brainer.
“We can actually say that she’s literally the world’s best goalkeeper,” Sowry said. “It’s a pretty cool thing to say, and she’s at the University of Louisville.”
Ireland’s silver medal performance was watched by over 40 percent of Irish television viewers and drew an average audience of 381,500.
“She’s a celebrity now,” Sowry said. “There were tweets out there that said ‘Ayeisha McFerran for President’.”
Amidst the success and accolades, McFerran stays humble, hungry and looks to the future.
“Obviously it’s a great honor, but there’s still a lot of things I need to work on to consider myself the best goalkeeper in the world,” McFerran said. “One day I would love to get there, but I’m not there yet.”
Sowry says McFerran’s drive stems from her upbringing back home. The goalkeeper is incredibly athletic and competed in sports constantly growing up, in addition to nine years of Irish dancing.
“Her background makes her hungry,” Sowry said. “She has a chip on her shoulder. People didn’t believe in her growing up.”
McFerran proved herself in high school by becoming the youngest member ever of the Ireland National Team. She distinguished herself further by crossing the ocean and migrating to an American college environment.
As a freshman in 2015, McFerran led the ACC with nine shutouts and tied first-place on Louisville’s all-time list for single season shutouts. Nonetheless, challenges did not come easy to Ayeisha in her early days as a Cardinal.
“We got her here and she was lucky to even get through her freshman year,” Sowry said. “Things got tough and she wanted to run away. So it’s been pretty neat to see her mature and develop.”
In 2016, sophomore McFerran became the second player in program history to earn All-American honors in back-to-back seasons. The keeper added another All-American selection as a junior and registered a 1.91 goals against average in 19 appearances.
All the while, McFerran used her experience from the national level to help better her fellow teammates at U of L. Playing her senior year with a World Cup final appearance only ups the ante.
“She’s a student of the game, so the way she communicates needs work at times,” Sowry said. “In our environment, it can be challenging for some players because she has very high expectations.”
Sowry witnessed McFerran play at the World Cup in London this past summer. The Australian compared McFerran’s brilliant performance to one that occurred at U of L in 2017.
“I’ve never seen a goalkeeper perform at that level,” Sowry said. “Actually, I did. It was Ayeisha playing against Duke in the semifinals of the ACC.”
Louisville field hockey put forth a standout performance in the 2017 conference tournament. The Cardinals upset No. 2 Duke in the semifinals and made their first ever appearance in the ACC Championship.
McFerran collected a career-high 18 saves and turned in a brilliant shootout performance to hold off the Blue Devils. Following the victory, Sowry claimed her goalkeeper was “one of the best in the world.”
Since then, McFerran has continued to inhabit her role more deeply. Adjusting between the national and collegiate levels is not easy, but the senior makes it happen.
“It’s been very beneficial, being able to maintain focus at the high level,” McFerran said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to transfer it down and play at the college level.”
So far, McFerran has 16 saves in 2018. Field hockey dropped two out of their first five matches, with both of the losses coming against ranked opponents.
Expectations for the season are high after last year’s ACC finals appearance. The Cardinals were preseason picked to finish third in the conference.
“We’ve got a good group of girls and we believe we can do another year of damage in the ACC,” McFerran said.
You can see McFerran and the team in action on Friday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. Louisville hosts Boston College at Trager Stadium for their second ACC matchup of the season.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photo by Adrianna Lynch / The Louisville Cardinal