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Ireland captain Mullan staying focused as another cup final beckons

 

Captain marvel: Katie Mullan aims to drive Ireland into tomorrow’s decider by beating the Czech Republic for a second time
Captain marvel: Katie Mullan aims to drive Ireland into tomorrow’s decider by beating the Czech Republic for a second time

By John Flack

Ireland captain Katie Mullan insists nothing can be taken for granted today as she prepares to lead her team into action against the Czech Republic in the semi-finals of the FIH Hockey series at Banbridge.

That's in spite of the fact Ireland crushed the Czechs 8-1 in the group stages of the competition only six days ago before going on to hammer Singapore 11-0 after opening with a 2-1 win over Malaysia.

All three of Ireland's opponents are lower-ranked and the hosts went into the Havelock Park tournament at eighth on the world list following their heroics in lifting the silver medals at last August's World Cup in London.

Mullan is at pains to point out that Ireland made a mockery of the world rankings on that occasion after going into the showpiece at 16th and proceeding to beat the likes of India and Spain, who were ranked higher.

Today the roles will be reversed and it's the Czechs who will be attempting to cause an upset following their penalty shoot-out win over Scotland in Thursday's crossover quarter-final.

Mullan and the rest of the squad were interested spectators at what was a dour game but the Ireland skipper saw enough to suggest the Czechs won't roll over this afternoon.

The former Ballymoney and UCD player, one of seven Ulster women in the squad, insists today's game is the team's biggest since the World Cup final last August in London when Ireland lost 6-0 to the all-conquering Netherlands.

If Ireland win they are guaranteed a spot at the final stage of qualification for the Tokyo Olympics and a meeting with either Malaysia or Korea in tomorrow's final.

Defeat against the Czechs, while unimaginable, would leave Ireland playing off for third and fourth place and their hopes of progressing to the qualifiers would be left hanging in the balance.

Mullan said: "It's all about reaching the final and then getting more ranking points from here on in and those are important as we want to at least stay eighth if not get even higher in the world.

"We simply cannot take anything for granted against the Czechs and, having watched them the other night against Scotland, they seem to have got a little more physical as the tournament has worn on.

"It's testament to their defending that they kept Scotland scoreless as both teams played half-court, meaning there weren't too many goalscoring chances.

"But they have a couple of useful forwards who are capable of posing us problems.

"And the fact we beat them convincingly in the group game matters nothing now as it's a clean slate for both teams.

"You tend to find that teams can change quite a lot in how they perform between group games and one-offs like the semi-final that lies ahead, so we will be treating them with the utmost respect."

Mullan, who won the German championship with Hamburg club An der Alster a few weeks ago, does accept that if Ireland play to their potential then they will win the game and qualify for tomorrow's final when the pressure would be off to a degree.

As expected, Ireland have put two of their three opponents to date to the sword.

Also, the goals have been spread around much to their captain's delight.

Mullan added: "We have scored a lot of very good team goals, with a lot of touches from several players in the build-up and that's been encouraging.

"We have had quite a high success ratio from our penalty corners as well and we still have a few variations up our sleeves which we can utilise if things get tight."

Ireland have also been practising penalty run-ins just in case they are needed to produce a result but it would be a major surprise if today's game went to the wire.

Mullan's team should have little difficulty reaching tomorrow's final which will be a different proposition assuming the Koreans also progress as expected against Malaysia.

Tomorrow's programme also sees Singapore and Ukraine in the 7th/8th play-off while France and Scotland are in the 5th/6th play-off tomorrow.

Today's FIH series schedule: (Havelock Park, Banbridge): 7th/8th place play-off: Singapore v Ukraine (11am); semi-finals: Ireland v Czech Republic (1.15pm); Korea v Malaysia (3.30pm)

Tomorrow: 5th-6th place play-off: France v Scotland (11am); 3rd-4th: (1.15pm); final: (3.30pm)

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