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Ireland strike gold with series against Olympic champions

By John Flack

The Ireland women's hockey team have landed a major coup with confirmation that they are to play Olympic gold medallists, Great Britain, in three games next month.

The series is being used as part of the preparation for the final stage of World Cup qualifying which takes place in the summer.

The games are likely to be staged at GB's training base at Bisham Abbey on dates that have still to be confirmed.

Ireland last played GB two years ago as part of the build-up to the World League 3 tournament, which was the final eliminator for the 2016 Olympic Games.

While Ireland failed to qualify, the British team went on to strike gold in Rio, beating the Netherlands in a penalty shoot-out in the final, watched by a television audience of nine million people.

Since then, several members of the squad have retired from international hockey, but 12 of the 19 players who were in Brazil remain on the panel.

Ireland will have several more matches to prepare for the World League 3 event and the full programme is expected to be announced shortly.

Meanwhile, Pegasus are just two points off a place in the EY Irish Hockey play-offs after Rachel McMillan's early penalty corner goal gave them a 1-0 away win over Loreto.

The result was doubly important because the Leinster side went into the game with a five-point advantage over Pegasus.

Coach Ali McNeill said: "It was a very tight game but, fortunately, we held on despite being reduced to nine players at one stage late in the game."

Ards - who are three points behind Pegasus - still have a chance of making it into the top four after goals from Chloe Brown and Tamara Macleod gave them a 2-1 win over basement side Ulster Elks at Londonderry Park.

Ballymoney stay top of the Ulster Premier League after Katherine Gawn hit a treble in a 6-0 win over Banbridge.

EY Irish Hockey League: Ards 2 (C Brown, T Macleod) Ulster Elks 1 (D Wilson); Loreto 0 Pegasus 1 (R McMillan); Hermes- Monkstown 2 Railway Union 1; UCD 4 Pembroke 1; Ulster Premier League: Ballymoney 6 (K Gawn 3, J Moore, K Minihan, R Sutherland) Banbridge 0; Dungannon 1 (K Elliott) Lisnagarvey 1 (J Flynn); Portadown 0 Lurgan 7 (C Johnston, P Preston, S McClure 3, E McStea, C Hull); Randalstown 6 (E Clyde, CJ McDonald 2, Z Wilson, C McGrillen 2) North Down 1 (O Brown); Raphoe 0 Queen's 3 (J Kee, R Henderson, S McCullough); Senior One: Armagh 4 (J Stevenson, E Mackey, K Glass, A Stewart) Cookstown 0; Ballyclare 1 (S Dickey) Mossley 5 (R McCullough, K Lorimer, A Jones, S McDowell, Z McIlwaine); Knock 2 (J Doak 2) Victorians 3 (E Cutrona 2, R Hewitt); Larne 0 Ballymena 4 (R Reynolds 2, C McCracken, E Anderson); Irish Hockey Trophy: semi-final: Galway 1 Rainey 1 (R Burns) (Galway won 3-1 on pens); Irish Junior Cup semi-finals: Queen's II 1 (K McIllwaine) Pembroke II 2; Lisnagarvey II 1 (S Atkinson) Railway Union II 3.

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