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Ireland dare to dream as Grundie's side book place in Olympic play-off tie

A place in the FIH Final Series decider assures the Green Army of a shot at Tokyo 2020 qualification.

Ireland 4 
Czech Republic 0 

Ryan Bailey reports from Havelock Park, Banbridge 

JOB DONE, and with it, a quiet sigh of relief. 

Ireland have safely negotiated the first hurdle on the road to Olympic qualification and are now just two victories away from achieving their ultimate goal of reaching Tokyo 2020.

Shirley McCay celebrates scoring a goal with teammates Ireland celebrate their opening goal. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

A place in tomorrow’s FIH Final Series decider assures Gareth Grundie’s side of a two-legged Olympic play-off tie later this year, following this controlling and comfortable 3-0 win in front of a sold-out Havelock Park.

Having faced little resistance en route to the tournament semi-finals, Ireland made light work of the awful conditions and a stoic Czech effort to book their place in Sunday’s final in emphatic fashion.

First-half goals from Shirley McCay and Zoe Wilson set the Green Army on their way and Sarah Hawkshaw’s third strike of the campaign and Anna O’Flanagan’s late goal sealed a victory which assures Ireland’s passage through to the serious business in late October/early November.

The task now is to complete a near-perfect week here in Banbridge by clinching the FIH Final Series trophy when they face either Korea in Sunday afternoon’s final [3.30pm].

Ireland’s overall dominance of this last-four contest was not necessarily reflected in the final score, as they spurned a number of gilt-edged chances throughout, but it was another measured performance given the high-stakes circumstances.

As soon as the home side converted their possession and territory into a quickfire double, courtesy of two well-worked penalty corners, the outcome was never in doubt and the only question was how many.

While the World Cup finalists brought their overall goal tally to 25 from four matches, it ought to have been a lot more here, but in the end they’ll more than settle for their lot as they continue on the road to Tokyo. 

As it was here last Saturday, the persistent rain at Havelock Park contrived to make this a stodgy contest, particularly when the Czech Republic gameplan — slow proceedings down, and get numbers behind the ball — was relatively simple and highly effective on a saturated surface.

Although the opening quarter was pockmarked by mistakes and broken up by frees, the Czechs — ranked 19th in the world — could only hold Ireland at arm’s length for so long, and the hosts’ pressure and superiority across all facets told in the second 15.

pe_00805936 Deirdre Duke comes close for Ireland. Source: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

After Ayeisha McFerran had made a smart save from a penalty corner at one end, Ireland broke with pace and precision through Deirdre Duke and Gillian Pinder, the pair combining to set up the chance for O’Flanagan, only for the forward to flash wide.

Ireland didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough, however. With their stranglehold on the game tightening, a well-worked and executed penalty corner, involving Roisin Upton’s dummy, saw McCay’s sweep from the top of the circle find the backboard, even if its intended target was captain Katie Mullan. 

Moments later, it was 2-0. This time, Ireland switched it right through Duke, and Wilson’s sweep to the left post took a favourable deflection off a Czech stick to go over the ‘keeper and into the net. 

Now in complete control, Grundie’s side looked to hammer home their advantage before the half-time interval and really ought to have had their third goal on the scoreboard, but O’Flanagan — with five goals in the tournament — was unable to add to her tally from Duke’s square ball.  

Ireland’s dominance continued into the second half and the home side, with Upton, Lena Tice and McCay all pulling the strings from deep, had a succession of chances without being able to add the insurance score.

Two of them fell to O’Flanagan, while Ali Meeke should have applied the finishing touch to Duke’s cross, as Ireland were guilty of an element of profligacy in the final third, even if credit must go to the Czechs for their stoic resistance.

The third goal eventually arrived in the 50th minute as Hawkshaw netted her third of the tournament, deflecting home McCay’s cross, before O’Flanagan got her reward in the final exchanges to seal the deal.

Ireland march on, with silverware now on the line here on Sunday. 

IRELAND: Ayeisha McFerran (GK), Katie Mullan (captain), Lena Tice, Gillian Pinder, Beth Barr, Lizzie Colvin, Hannah Matthews, Anna O’Flanagan, Zoe Wilson, Deirdre Duke, Ali Meeke.

Subs: Emma Buckley (GK), Roisin Upton, Chloe Brown, Shirley McCay, Chloe Watkins, Nicci Daly, Sarah Hawkshaw.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Barbora Cechakova (GK), Katerina Lacina, Jindriska Reichlova, Adela Koziskova, Tereza Mejzlikova (captain), Veronika Novakova, Adela Lehovcova, Anna Kolarova, Veronika Decsyova, Anna Vorlova, Natalie Novakova.

Subs: Tereza Holubcova, Natalie Hajkova, Katerina Jelinkova, Renata Capouchova, Barbora Brizova (GK), Nikol Babicka, Monika Hlavata.

Umpires: Rachel Williams (England) and Lelia Sacre (Canada).

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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