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Shirley celebrates but Ireland still not safe

Ireland 3 Czech Republic 1

By John Flack

Ulster's Shirley McCay celebrated her 250th cap with a win as Ireland defeated the Czech Republic 3-1 at the EuroHockey Championship in Amsterdam yesterday to keep their chances of retaining top-flight status alive.

Tomorrow, a draw with Spain, who beat Scotland 2-1 in the other relegation group game, would be enough to keep Ireland up, but defeat would leave their fate hanging in the balance.

Ireland's failure to score more goals yesterday could yet prove costly, as Scotland will be expected to defeat the relegated and demoralised Czechs tomorrow.

The Scots, who are three goals worse off, would also have the advantage of knowing their target should Ireland lose to Spain earlier in the day (11.15am UK time).

Nevertheless, McCay had good cause to celebrate after reaching that remarkable milestone as she remains Ireland's most-capped sportswoman.

The Ulster Elks player said: "It feels like the past 10 years have just flown by and obviously it was a really special occasion and I'm very proud."

"I have a lot of great memories, particularly in matches beating higher-ranked teams, and playing in places like Argentina with such a great atmosphere is always special.

"As regards this tournament, we didn't want be in this position but we're delighted to have got the win against the Czechs who aren't a bad side.

"We've played both England and Germany a few times recently and always given them a good run for their money and we'd hoped to do the same here.

"We didn't start those games very well and were really disappointed with the draw against Scotland in a game I felt we dominated, but we can now look forward to the Spain game."

Ireland made a dream start yesterday when, after just 24 seconds, Lena Tice broke the deadlock from a penalty-corner.

Roisn Upton's penalty-stroke came off the post nine minutes later and there were chances at both ends before the Czechs levelled in the 49th minute when Barbora Haklova scored with a spectacular overhead volley after Ireland had failed to clear their lines.

However, within 60 seconds, Upton made amends for her earlier miss when she drilled a superb shot home from a set-piece.

Six minutes from the end, Anna O'Flanagan sealed the win when she flicked the ball home at the near post after good work by Nicci Daly and Emily Beatty.

Today it's the turn of Ireland's men to begin their bid to stave off the threat of relegation when they take on Spain (1.45pm).

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