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Ireland captain Katie Mullan returns to manage in Ulster Premier League

 

Returning home: Katie Mullan is player/coach at Ballymoney
Returning home: Katie Mullan is player/coach at Ballymoney

By John Flack

Ireland women's captain Katie Mullan has turned down the chance to spend another season in Germany to return home and take up a new role as player-coach at Ballymoney.

Mullan, who led her country to an unprecedented silver medal finish at last year's World Cup in London, had been offered the opportunity to extend her contract with Club an der Alster.

The 25-year-old helped the Hamburg club retain the Bundesliga title last season but she also played a handful of matches for Ballymoney when available.

Mullan's decision to come home and play for the club where she learned her hockey, is based primarily on her Ireland commitments.

The national squad will be training up to four days a week from September in the build-up to the Olympic qualifiers which are likely to take place in early November.

So, a move back home, rather than commuting from Germany where the league often involves weekend double headers, makes more sense.

In contrast, Ballymoney and other Ulster Premier League teams often schedule matches for midweek, especially in the early part of the season, thus freeing up their new player-coach.

However, Mullan could easily have chosen to play in Irish hockey's top-flight, the EY Irish Hockey League, having previously lined out for UCD, where she recently graduated last year with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Had she wanted to be based in Ulster, there is no doubt either of the two IHL clubs from the province, Pegasus and Belfast Harlequins, would have welcomed her with open arms.

Instead, she has remained loyal to Ballymoney, rather like fellow World Cup silver medallist Zoe Wilson, who will be undertaking the same role with Money's Ulster rivals Randalstown, having moved from Harlequins.

Mullan said: "I am incredibly excited to take up a coaching role with Ballymoney for the coming season. They have always shown me unwavering support so this is a brilliant opportunity for me to give back to my home club.

"Whilst there is a wealth of experience in the squad, I hope to share some of my game knowledge with the team. In particular, I look forward to working with the highly talented youth players who are beginning their senior hockey careers.

"Spending the season in Germany was a brilliant experience for me - I was playing with a really talented group of players.

"There were a lot of things that I learnt from the game there that I hope to be able to bring home."

Mullan will be part of a triumvirate of coaches at Ballymoney, as she joins Richard Fairman and Luke Witherow, the Banbridge forward.

Witherow's immediate priority is to help the Ireland Under 21 men's team secure promotion into the top-flight of the European Championship.

The Irish young guns take on Scotland in the Czech Republic in the semi-finals today (12.45pm), needing a win to go up, having already beaten them in a warm-up series.

Ireland vice-captain Witherow said: "Everything has come together at an important stage for us and we have scored some lovely goals and been defensively solid."

"But we know Scotland are a top team and our recent results against them won't matter as it's a semi-final and anything can happen."

Meanwhile, Ireland's U21 women, who were already relegated from the top division, defeated France 1-0 in the Euros last night in Valencia with Hannah McLoughlin on target.

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