Ireland ease through to move within one win of Olympic showdown ticket

FIH Series Finals, Pool A
Ireland 11 (R Upton 2, K Mullan 2, M Frazer, G Pinder, S Hawkshaw, L Tice, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson) Singapore 0

The Green Army marched into the semi-final of the FIH Series Finals with the minimum of fuss as their 11-0 win over Singapore at Banbridge puts them one win away from a guaranteed direct Olympic qualifier tie next October.

In truth, this was as much of a mismatch as the world ranking would suggest as Ireland – world number 8 – blew apart a side rated 35th.

Seven first half goals saw Ireland threaten to break their all-time goalscoring record. The scoring slowed after half-time, leaving the 13-0 success over Finland in the 1991 European Championship qualifiers in place, but it was very much a case of job done.

Megan Frazer opened the scoring seven minutes in with a simple volley after Roisin Upton’s initial drag-flick. It was Frazer’s first international goal in almost three years which encompassed her series of cruciate ligament issues.

A quality near post touch from Katie Mullan and a beautiful backhand shot from Gillian Pinder by the 11th minute pretty much made the game safe.

Singapore spent the game protecting their circle but to little avail, conceding 10 penalty corners before the break from which Upton scored twice while Lena Tice slammed in another. Sarah Hawkshaw made it two goals in two games for the 7-0 interval lead.

The third quarter was scoreless before Anna O’Flanagan, Hannah Matthews, Mullan and Zoe Wilson added the extras down the closing stretch.

“We started with a good intensity and energy, moved the ball quickly and got ourselves ahead,” interim coach Gareth Grundie said of the performance. “It is more about trying to stick to the style of hockey that we want to play – a high paced, fast tempo game where we encourage ourselves to dictate the tempo.

The fans line up to meet the Irish team. Pic: Billy Pollock

“Singapore made it difficult in the third quarter, got numbers back but we upped the energy in the last quarter.”

Ireland now await their final four opponent which will be determined on Thursday evening when the quarter-finals play out. It gives the side a precious chance to rest up for three days for the business end of the competition, particularly for a player like Upton who has been lining out with heavy strapping on her right leg.

“It is keeping me in one piece!” the Limerick woman joked. “Whatever it takes! This is phase one complete now – we have waited a long eight or nine months since the World Cup for this round of qualifiers. Having three days off gives us a great chance to regroup.”

“We broke this tournament down into two phases; that’s phase one done and we hit all our targets,” Shirley McCay said after her 281st cap, putting her back on top as the national record holder ahead of Eugene Magee.

“Now we reset and wait to find out who we play in the semi-finals on Saturday where every energy will be focused to make sure we are ready.

“They are baby steps but this tournament is massive for us, especially on home soil with so many kids out to watch us. We aim to win it and go from there!”

She played in the forward line at times, something she also did against the Czech Republic for a spell. Speaking about those rare forays forward, she added: I have been really enjoying it, having a bit more impetus a bit further up the pitch.

“I am just happy to be playing – I would have played further forward in my youth and I sometimes feel the older you get, you tend to drop backwards but I do like playing up there. We are playing teams where we have a bit more of the ball and more attacking threat than what we are used to so it’s nice to pose a bit of a threat!”

Ireland’s post match team talk. Pic: Billy Pollock

O’Flanagan, meanwhile, was used in deeper role rather than at the fulcrum of the attack while Emma Buckley made her ranking tournament debut as a half-time sub in goal for Ayeisha McFerran.

“We are always looking to improve so we picked a few areas to practice,” Grundie added. “It is more about trying to stick to the style of hockey that we want to play – a high paced, fast tempo game where we encourage ourselves to dictate the game.”

Thursday’s quarter-finals will feature Scotland and the Czech Republic for the right to play Ireland in the semi-final. Malaysia will come up against France with Korea awaiting in the other semi-final tie.

That was due to Korea’s narrow win over the French, scoring two minutes from the end for a 1-0 success. Scotland were set the task of beating Ukraine to go through while a three-goal success would see them leap from bottom to second. They duly went one better with a 4-0 victory earning them their quarter-final place.

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

Singapore: F Lai, P Maligaya, N A Abdull, I Chan, P Ho, N S Saban, L M Toh, L Tan, R Sanip, G Leck
Subs: J Ng, S Wong, C Chia, S Ng, M Francis, X Chua, Y T Liu

Women’s FIH Series Finals
Pool A: Ireland 11 (R Upton 2, K Mullan 2, M Frazer, G Pinder, S Hawkshaw, L Tice, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson) Singapore 0; Malaysia 3 Czech Republic 1
Standings: 1. Ireland 9pts (+19) 2. Malaysia 6pts (+13) 3. Czech Republic 3pts (-4) 4. Singapore 0pts (-28)

Pool B: Korea 1 France 0; Ukraine 0 Scotland 4
Standings: 1. Korea 9pts (+8) 2. Scotland 3pts (+1) 3. France 3pts (-1) 4. Ukraine 3pts (-8)

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