It’s a year to the day since Ireland’s women won the hearts and minds of the nation by lifting the silver medals at the World Cup but team captain Katie Mullan insists there is still unfinished business to be done, writes John Flack.
On that unforgettable day in London, a capacity 10,500 crowd turned the Lee Valley Stadium into a sea of green as Ireland’s fairy tale ended in a disappointing 6-0 to the Netherlands.
But the initial dejection at the final hooter lasted only briefly and quickly turned to elation as the magnitude of Ireland’s unprecedented achievement began to sink in with scenes of unbridled joy.
Since then, much has changed in Irish women’s hockey, with a higher profile for the sport and a new head coach following the shock departure of Graham Shaw to New Zealand with Sean Dancer moving in the opposite direction.
But while Ireland broke new ground in London, the Olympic dream remains unfulfilled and that’s something Mullan wants to put right a year on.
The Ballymoney player-coach said: “The last 12 months have been brilliant, the change for the sport in Ireland has been really positive, and we have a lot more kids playing the game which is great to see.”
“But, I think for us as players, we always said our aim was to qualify for an Olympic Games for the first time and even though last summer was amazing, we still haven’t reached that goal.
“That’s very grounding and we are working harder than ever to prepare ourselves for the qualifiers for Tokyo later this year.”
Ireland shot up the world rankings to eighth following their achievement in London and that should be enough to book them a two-legged qualifying tie, likely to be at home, with a ticket to Tokyo the rich reward for the aggregate winners.
The opposition will be confirmed after the conclusion of the various continental championships next month when a new set of world rankings will be calculated.
Ireland are off the Antwerp for the Europeans from August 16-25 and will have a dry run over the next few days when they take on Belgium in two internationals on Wednesday and Friday at the tournament venue.
Ireland continued their build-up with 7-0 and 4-1 wins over lower-ranked Italy at Stormont last week but Mullan admits Belgium, who are just one place lower on the global-list than Ireland, will be a step up in class.
Mullan added: “Belgium are a very different type of team to Italy with a different style and the games should be great preparation for the Europeans.
“Under Sean, we have been playing a more attacking style of hockey and it’s really exciting for us to get the opportunity to go forward more and take more risks.
“I think it suits us as a team, we are gradually getting used to it and, in the games against Italy, we dictated the pace which is something we want to be doing.”