Anything is possible as Ireland look to keep bandwagon rolling against England

In the annals of Irish women’s hockey, there are precious few wins over England on the ledger but such is the bouyant mood around the camp, skipper Katie Mullan says “anything is possible”.

Her side meet the World Cup hosts on Sunday evening with an enviable shot to nothing. Wins over the US and India mean a quarter-final slot is already assured and the pressure off when they meet in Lee Valley on Sunday at 7pm.

Being top of the group also means an additional two rest days, something which Graham Shaw is delighted to have given the heavy strapping sported by the likes of Roisin Upton and Megan Frazer.

While the result is immaterial from an Irish perspective, there is always an extra importance to a tie against England. Add in that Lee Valley will have 10,500 predominantly local fans and this was always the eye-catching draw once the groups were doled out.

It is a case of the haves against the have nots. England are the most monied of the national federations in the competition and have central contracts for all their players.

With eight Olympic gold medalists and a world number two ranking, they are among the favourites on paper for the competition. Ireland only picked up sponsor support from SoftCo in June of this year following many pleas over the last few years while just three players are not either students or workers. Of that trio of Anna O’Flanagan, Nikki Evans and Chloe Watkins, all have taken work sabbaticals to pursue this dream.

They face an England team who have found things a little sticky so far, pegged back twice by USA and India for 1-1 draws. It means there is a permutation that could see them finish bottom of the group while, at best, they have a crossover date to contend with early next week.

The English coach, Danny Kerry, tried to grasp underdog status in an interview with BT Sport due to the group status but it is Ireland who know the pressure is off.

“We are buzzing for that game, a sell-out crowd, nothing to lose,” O’Flanagan said. “They have everything to play for and the pressure is on them.

“I don’t know if anyone wearing an Irish jersey could say they wouldn’t enjoy playing an English team on English soil with 10,000 plus people there. No better place to beat the English!”

“Ah jaysus, it’s like Christmas,” Nicci Daly added about being in such a situation, adding that the Irish crowd will make their mark despite being out-numbered in the stands.

“Either way, we will just embrace it. I think we will have a good crowd out and we will play our game and see where it takes us.”

For coach Graham Shaw, he has frequently extolled the virtues of enjoying the moment.

“We have been pretty relaxed going into each game. We can really enjoy that atmosphere. There’s maybe a little pressure on them, none on us. We want to perform well and continue on this run. It’s a dream come true for these girls to play in front of a crowd of that size and I am really looking forward to it.

“To play England in England in a World Cup will be fantastic, something we can really look forward to without any pressure. The support has been fantastic and a lot of people have made the trip away and made themselves known around the grounds with their noise.

“We’re really looking forward to it and hopefully a few people living locally will make the journey and get behind the team.”

As for next Thursday’s quarter-final, their potential quarter-final opponents is slightly clearer with China and Korea no longer a possible opponent due to Italy’s shock win on Friday evening over the latter.

Ireland will play either second place in Pool A – the winners of the Netherlands and Italy – or third in Pool B which could be any of India, USA and England at this stage.

With no influence on who they can potentially play and a few days rest to follow, it means Shaw’s full focus is keeping the momentum rolling and growing the ever-growing support.

“The big thing is we want to perform well. We set out to improve every game and the performance is the most important thing for us so we can carry the momentum through to the quarter-finals.

“The extra publicity has been fantastic – not just the hockey community but the wider public are getting involved. Long may that continue, we are absolutely over the moon with it. We’re still here to do a job and go as far as we can in the competition.

“We set out to get a result in every game. Starting with two wins has been the dream start and so we want to continue.”

Women’s Hockey World Cup, Pool B: Ireland v England, 7pm, Lee Valley (live on BT Sport)

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