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Italian job takes on whole new meaning

By John Flack

Ireland's final group game with Italy at the Eurohockey Nations' Cup tournament in Manchester next week has suddenly taken on added significance with a new-look classification process making its debut at the showpiece.

As in under-age competitions, points earned in the first phase of the tournament will be carried over into the play-offs.

As part of the new format, Ireland, if they finish in the bottom two in their pool which is anticipated, will then play the two bottom placed teams from the other group with a top six finish overall the ultimate objective.

Ireland's task of staying in the top flight will be considerably eased if they were to beat the Italians with those points in the bag.

If not then they could well have to win BOTH of their classification games which are likely to be against Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

The bottom two nations in each group play the two teams they haven't met earlier and the top two from that group of four will stay in the top division next time around.

" If anything, it adds to the pressure knowing that we really have to beat Italy but I've been happy with our preparations," national coach Gene Muller explained.

It's probably better for Ireland that the Italian job is the last of their three preliminary matches.

That's because they can afford to relax, to a degree, earlier on as they won't be expected to cut much ice against England and Holland in their first two games.

In addition Ireland will certainly benefit from two highly competitive contests, though the same could be said for the Italians. Muller's girls have had more than a dozen competitive matches in the build-up to Manchester along with a similar number of unofficial games.

The latest of those took place in Holland a couple of weeks ago when Muller's squad played the Dutch U21s in three games amidst a training camp.

For the record they won one (4-3) and lost two (1-0 and 2-1) but the South African is happy with the way the preparations have gone.

"Overall, I've been very happy with what we've been able to achieve in the build-up, given the time frame," he says.

IRELAND: Emma Clarke, Jenny McDonagh, Shirley McCay, Bridget McKeever, Jill Orbinson, Clare Parkhill, Alex Speers, Emma Stewart (Ulster); Eimear Cregan, Emer Harte, Julia O'Halloran (Munster); Linda Caulfield, Roisin Flinn, Mary Goode, Louisa Healy, Cathy McKean, Ciara O'Brien, Nikki Symmons (Leinster).

Saturday: Ireland v England (3pm); Monday: Ireland v Holland (11am); Tuesday: Ireland v Italy (3pm); Thursday: Rest Day; Friday-Saturday: Classification matches.

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