Green Army march through to Series final and a big step forward on Road to Tokyo

Women’s FIH Series Finals
Semi-final: Ireland 4 (S McCay, Z Wilson, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan) Czech Republic 0

Ireland’s women took a big leap forward on their Road to Tokyo as they dismissed the Czech Republic 4-0 at a drenched Banbridge, assuring they will be part of next October’s Olympic qualifiers.

It also sets up a final date with Korea where a win can give their hopes of a home qualifier date a big boost.

Shirley McCay celebrates her goal. Pic: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Shirley McCay’s 19th minute penalty corner “skipper” shot set them on their way after a tricky enough opening quarter before Zoe Wilson put daylight between the sides. Late goals from Sarah Hawkshaw and Anna O’Flanagan completed the win and the final berth.

Early on, a drenched pitch saw Ireland struggle at times in the face of a rudimentary Czech approach, slowing the game where possible before launching long balls – both high and along the ground – to their forward lines.

Via that route, they enjoyed a modicum of success, winning a couple of corners, more than they mustered in the previous 8-1 meeting last Sunday.

But Ireland started to work through their connections with good chances falling to Anna O’Flanagan and Deirdre Duke before the end of the first quarter.

In such conditions, though, corners were always likely to be the clearest way of forging ahead and the Green Army converted both of their first two between the 19th and 22nd minute.

McCay – a la the win over the USA in the World Cup – delivered the first with a disguised angle from left to right. It was intended for Katie Mullan but the striker – maybe wary after she took a ball to the jaw in training a day earlier that left her with six stitches and large swelling – missed the touch and the ball whipped into the backboard.

Heavy traffic in midfield. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“I just put it on target and if they miss, I’ll take it,” McCay grinned afterwards. “They crowded the circle and we knew it was going to be a battle so the set-pieces were going to be massive for us. We’ve worked really hard on them and we’ve plenty in our locker on our day. We executed them well today.

“Those are the moments for us we need to execute and we don’t have a specialist corner or a go-to or anything, but we have three or four really top-class players at the top of the circle there. Injectors, trappers, everything. We know we can rely on our set-pieces.”

Three minutes later, Wilson’s heavily deflected corner – via a switch left – doubled up and the Czechs never really showed the same resolve after that.

Ireland did let a few golden chances slip from play while Ireland did run up eight corners but could not add to their tally on that front.

It meant the game was not fully put to bed until 10 minutes from the end. McCay played a key part again when she retrieved the ball wide on the right endline, taking her time before picking out Hawkshaw to tap-in her third goal of the tournament.

O’Flanagan completed the victory in the last 30 seconds as four Irish attackers tore in on goal and she clipped home via Barbora Cechakova’s pads.

For McCay, she had been considering retirement in the wake of the World Cup but is delighted she put that decision on the backburner.

“These are moments you relish and play for. If I wasn’t involved here, I would be sitting at home watching and kicking myself, regretting it. I took time out, really enjoyed it and now I am.”

And she is now keen to finish the tournament on a high with a win boosting their world ranking points and potentially aiding a home draw for the Olympic qualifiers.

“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 first and second place finishes.

“We are aware of how tight it is in and around the ranking points between each spot. 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.”

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

Czech Republic: B Cechakova, K Lacina, J Reichlova, A Koziskova, T Mejzlikova, V Novakova, A Lehovcova, A Kolarova, V Decsyova, A Vorlova, N Novakova
Subs: T Holubcova, N Hajkova, K Jelinkova, R Capouchova, N Babicka, M Hlavata, B Brizova

Women’s FIH Series Finals (all at Banbridge)
Semi-final: Ireland 4 (S McCay, Z Wilson, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan) Czech Republic 0; Korea 3 Malaysia 0
7th/8th place playoff: Ukraine 3 Singapore 0

Sunday schedule
Final: Ireland v Korea, 3.30pm
3rd/4th place playoff: Malaysia v Czech Republic, 1.15pm
5th/6th place playoff: Scotland v France, 11am

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