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'These are the days we train for and the moments we put all our lives into'

Ireland have taken a significant step on the road to Tokyo 2020.

Ryan Bailey reports from Havelock Park, Banbridge  

EVEN AS THE heavens opened, Ireland were not prepared to let the conditions rain on their parade. The opening exchanges were fraught with tension and pockmarked by mistakes, but the saturated surface only acted as a leveller for so long.

A commanding 4-0 semi-final win over Czech Republic grants Ireland a place in Sunday’s FIH Final Series decider and, more significantly, a passage through to an Olympic play-off tie in October.

Chloe Watkins and Roisin Upton celebrate after the game Roisin Upton and Chloe Watkins celebrate. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

As captain Katie Mullan put it, the first phase is now complete but building momentum and collecting valuable world ranking points means the second phase, starting tomorrow, is just as important for the Green Army. 

Ireland, the tournament hosts, will face Korea in Sunday afternoon’s decider [3.30pm] in what promises to be their toughest assignment of the campaign, having scored 25 goals in their four outings to date.

They scored another four here to comfortably account for Czech Republic, having beaten the same opposition 8-1 in the pool stages last weekend, as Gareth Grundie’s side took a big step along the road to Tokyo 2020.

Ireland were initially frustrated by the Czech approach — they looked to slow the tempo of the contest down at every opportunity — but once Shirley McCay’s slap from the top of the circle found the corner, the World Cup finalists were well on their way.

Another second-quarter penalty corner saw Zoe Wilson double Ireland’s lead and their dominance was reflected on the scoreboard when Sarah Hawkshaw and Anna O’Flanagan added goals three and four in the fourth quarter.

While Ireland remain focused on completing a perfect week tomorrow, their primary objective of a top-two finish has been achieved. 

“We are absolutely chuffed,” Mullan said afterwards. “We knew we would have a much tougher job today than the pool game. They were much stronger and very physical and we had to ride the storm in the first quarter but we knew if we moved the ball quickly, and played our pace, we would get our opportunities.

“And I am really proud of the girls and the effort they put in. Phase one is complete, phase two is to get those ranking points. We know how valuable they will be and there is a significant difference between [finishing] first and second. We look to give ourselves the best possibility.

“The crowd has been brilliant and no doubt tomorrow will be the best it has been. Hopefully, that will give us the energy to play a really nice game and enjoy it.”

The Ireland team during the National Anthem Ireland during the anthems. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

Another big crowd at Havelock Park again showed the importance of home advantage for Ireland, and their pursuit of an Olympic qualifier on these shores will require them to collect as many world ranking points as possible.

“We are aware of how tight it is in and around the ranking points between each spot,” Mullan continued. “We just want to give ourselves the best opportunity. Tomorrow will also be a really competitive game which will help us to see where we are at. A final is a final, you will always want to win it.

Getting through today was always going to have that bit of pressure and nerves but we did the job.

O’Flanagan, who scored her sixth goal of the tournament in the dying embers to seal victory, said the players are relishing the added pressure and expectation on them since last summer’s exploits in London.

“These are the days we train for and the moments we put all our lives into,” the striker added.

“It would be a shame to go out there and not enjoy it with each other. While people say there is a bit more pressure on us now, that’s what we’ve wanted for so long. We’ve wanted to be in this spotlight as such and want to be able to succeed under that pressure.

“We’re enjoying every minute of it.”

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Ryan Bailey

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