Late Irish goals give Euro survival hopes big boost

Women’s Rabo EuroHockey Championships
Ireland 3 (L Tice, R Upton, A O’Flanagan) Czech Republic 1 (B Haklova)

Late goals from Roisin Upton and Anna O’Flanagan put the Irish women within a result of retaining their status at the top table of European hockey as they saw off the Czech Republic 3-1 in Amsterdam.

It puts them in good shape to stay up provided they can get something from already safe Spain on Saturday morning. Lose, though, and they could be in danger of being pipped by Scotland on goal difference.

As such, despite the win, there was a tinge of frustration to the post-match reflections with the feeling they left a few goals behind them to bolster their goal tally.

“Maybe disappointed we didn’t rack up a few more goals but the most important thing is we got the win and go for the win against Spain to retain A status,” coach Graham Shaw said afterwards.

“The pleasing thing was we started well, something that we maybe haven’t done in this tournament. To score after 20 seconds, you thought it might flow a little bit. We just lack a bit of confidence in front of goal, we created a lot of good opportunities and we’re happy with the win.”

It came on a day when Shirley McCay became the first Irish sportswoman to reach 250 international caps.
Shaw paid tribute to the defender, saying: “It an incredible achievement. She and her family should be very proud of her.

“The commitment and loyalty she has shown over that 10 year period in an amateur sport where she doesn’t receive a penny is a testament to the person she is. From the management and the team, we just want to congratulate her.”

For McCay, she said it has been a product of “a lot of graft and a lot of sore bodies” before selflessly thanking her team mates and family.

“I’m delighted to be part of the team around me. I wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for them.I’m grateful for everyone around me, my family and friends for all the support I have got throughout the years.”

As for the game, Lena Tice’s piledriver into the bottom corner just 20 seconds into the tie looked to be a portent for a positive outlook for a potentially big win.

But the Czechs – the lowest ranked side in the competition – proved an obstinate opposition, making life difficult for Ireland at every turn, sitting deep and limiting space.

Roisin Upton spurned a penalty stroke chance, pinging the post, while Anna O’Flanagan’s diving touch closed out the half with Barbora Cechakova smothering the effort.

The Czechs, for their part, draw a couple of fine saves from Grace O’Flanagan in the first half but the Irish keeper was a spectator in the second half, usually more than 50 metres away from her nearest team mate.

And yet they managed to summon an equaliser from their only attack of note with 12 minutes to go.
A hopeful ball into the circle was miscontrolled, offering Klara Hanzlova a chance which was blocked high. Barbora Haklova volleyed in the loose ball.

Ireland’s response was immediate with Nicci Daly winning a corner which Upton netted down the left channel for 2-1 with 11 minutes to go. Emily Beatty then picked out Anna O’Flanagan at the near post for the insurance goal.

Whether an extra goal or two will come back to haunt them remains to be seen on Saturday morning. Ireland next play Spain on Saturday at 11.15am (Irish time) with a win guaranteeing their place in the top tier for 2019.

A draw or loss keeps them up; a loss could open the door for Scotland to overhaul them on goal difference.

As has been the case on many occasions in the last decade, it sends Ireland’s hopes down to the last day, something McCay knows all too well having stayed up in 2009 and 2011 before enduring relegation in 2013.

“This European tournament is the hardest you will play in. There’s no second chances and if you don’t play well, you don’t do well. In the relegation playoffs, there’s almost more pressure than the top four so these are key games for us, gaining experience.”

The Irish men, meanwhile, start their relegation pool campaign against Spain at 1.45pm on Friday, a win sealing their top tier place.

Ireland: G O’Flanagan, Y O’Byrne, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, G Pinder, C Watkins, N Daly, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke
Subs: N Evans, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, H Matthews, A Meeke, C Cassin

Czech Republic:
B Cechakova, K Lacina, A Kolarova, J Reichlova, K Poloprutska, K Hanzlova, K Dukatova, T Mejzlikova, V Novakova, A Lehovcova, B Haklova
Subs: K Jirsova, V Decsyova, A Vorlova, N Babicka, B Kavanova, N Novakova, A Vancurova

Umpires: K Alves (FRA), V Bagdanskiene (LTU)

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