Barr and Mullan set Ireland on course for opening win over Malaysia

Women’s FIH Series Finals
Ireland 2 (B Barr, K Mullan) Malaysia 1 (S Husain)

Bethany Barr and Katie Mullan strikes were enough to get Ireland up and running at the FIH Series Finals in Banbridge as they got the better of Malaysia.

Coach Gareth Grundie admitted it “wasn’t necessarily the prettiest” as the teeming rain made things difficult to make their higher tempo count in front of a couple of thousand fans, witnessing Ireland’s first home game since the World Cup.

But they always had the edge in quality against the world number 22 side, continuing their perfect run of results against the Asian side.

Barr got a crucial touch to redirect Shirley McCay’s penalty corner slap past Farah Yahya in the third minute. It was a special moment for the Lurgan woman in her first match in a world ranking tournament – along with Sarah Hawkshaw – and gave an exuberant celebration to match.

Zoe Wilson flashed a corner hit wide from their next best moment but it was something of a struggle otherwise as the conditions held up the ball.

“The pitch was very wet and the ball didn’t travel which slowed us down so we couldn’t play the game we wanted,” Grundie said. “They started to pick off a few balls that would maybe have got through otherwise and get a few counter-attacks.

“As the sun came out, the third quarter was probably our best, a bit more tempo and got two up, more chances and more corners,” he added of how the level improved in the second half, pinning Malaysia back in their 23-metre zone for long spells.

And they got their second when Hawkshaw took on a sideline free quickly, laying off to Lizzie Colvin who slipped a pass under her arm to Mullan to smash in – albeit with a hit of backstick – on her reverse.

And that should have been that but Malaysia ensured a slightly uncomfortable when Norazlin Sumantri’s shot deflected to Siti Husain who popped in a simple chance with six minutes to go.

But they got over the line 2-1 to start the campaign on the front foot ahead of Sunday’s game against the Czech Republic – comfortable 5-0 winners over Singapore – at 3pm.

For Barr, her early opener was the perfect way to shake off heavy pre-match nerves at a venue just 15 minutes from where she grew up in Lurgan.

“We do a lot of jump tests but I don’t think I have jumped as high as that before. It did settle the nerves; going in, I know I was very nervous,” she said.
“I get nervous before every game but doing that so early gave me the confidence and moments like that just remind you you are playing the sport you love and it was a nice way to start the game.”

Barr took the field with “AO1” written in pen on her arm, denoting “audience of one” and her Christianity.

Ireland team talk. Pic: Adrian Boehm

“When I play, my main focus is to use the gifts I have been given by God. I thank God for this opportunity to be here. By Him placing me here, I couldn’t be here otherwise. Even though there is a crowd and a lot of people there, I solely focus on playing for him and that audience of one.”

Along with Lena Tice and Emma Buckley, she shared a pre-match moment that helped her take in the occasion.

“It’s so nice to have those girls both on the team together. We took time before lunch to get together and pray for each other, the team, the game and the tournament.

“That helped me and the girls to remember that we have a bigger purpose, that we are not just playing for results. We are here trying to use the gifts we have been given for His glory and not our own. It is very helpful to have those girls, to challenge each other, to remind each other of why we are playing.”

Ireland face the Czech Republic on Sunday at 3pm in their pursuit of top spot in the group which would lead to an automatic passage to the semi-finals.

Ireland: A McFerran, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, M Frazer, B Barr, C Watkins, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan
Subs: R Upton, G Pinder, S Hawkshaw, Z Wilson, D Duke, A Meeke, E Buckley

Malaysia: F Yahya, N Rashid, N Shabuddin, S Ruhani, J Din, N Sumantri, H Onn, S Awang, N Saiuti, N Zulkifli, K Gurdip
Subs: N H Ali, S Mat Isa, F Sukri, S Husain, N Syafi, F Sylvester, H Aziz

Umpires: M Reydo (ARG), L Sacre (CAN)

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