Ireland girls suffer further pain against Spain
The Ireland women's hockey team continued their preparation for next year's World Cup with a 4-2 defeat to their Spanish hosts in the opening game of the Tri-Nations series yesterday.
The result at least went some way to erasing the bitter memory of a humiliating 7-2 loss in the teams' last meeting at the European Championships in Amsterdam in the summer.
Ireland trailed 4-1 after the third quarter but, to their credit, battled back and had a goal disallowed near the end after earlier pulling one back.
Head coach Graham Shaw has included seven Under-21 players in his squad for the trip to southern Spain as he assesses his options ahead of the London showpiece next year in which Ireland will face England, India and the United States in the pool phase.
All five Ulster girls got a run-out yesterday, with Queen's teenager Jessica McMaster along with Belfast Harlequins duo Lizzie Colvin and Zoe Wilson named in the starting XI and Ards striker Chloe Brown and Erin Getty (Queen's) coming off the bench.
Ireland made a bright start and in the second minute Anna O'Flanagan, back in the side after missing the recent games against Scotland, set up Rebecca Barry, whose shot hit the post.
However, Spain broke the deadlock shortly afterwards when a loose ball into the circle was tapped home by Alicia Magaz at the far post.
Ireland equalised early in the second quarter when O'Flanagan forced a turnover near the penalty spot, allowing Emma Russell to fire the ball home on her backhand.
But Irish joy was short-lived as Spain scored twice in quick succession to go into the half-time break with a comfortable lead.
Georgina Oliva made it 2-1 in the 25th minute when she hammered the ball past Grace O'Flanagan with a strong reverse-stick shot and, two minutes later, Clara Ycart beat the Irish keeper with a drag flick following the first penalty corner of the game.
Spain added a fourth goal when Oliva got her second to make it 4-1 going into the final period, but Ireland reduced the deficit as a good move involving Lena Tice and Nikki Evans set up the chance for Russell to get her second goal of the game.
In the dying seconds, Ireland forced their first set-piece of the match and Brown set up Deirdre Duke, who put the ball in the net only to have the goal ruled out.
Ireland continue the triangular series today against Belgium, who should pose an even more difficult test having lifted the silver medals at the Europeans.
Meanwhile, at domestic level, Ballymoney can consolidate their position at the top of the Ulster Premier League on Saturday as they bid for a seventh win in a row when they host Mossley.
Second-placed Dungannon are at home to Randalstown while there's an important game at the other end of the table with Rainey facing fellow strugglers North Down.
Portadown, who got their first points of the season last weekend, host champions Lurgan in a local derby at Edenvilla on Friday night.