Let's ensure our home comforts count: Mullan
Ireland women's hockey captain Katie Mullan is expecting a tough battle with Canada when the teams meet in the two-legged Olympic qualifier in Dublin on November 2-3 with the aggregate winners booking their tickets to Tokyo.
In yesterday's draw made at the International Hockey Federation headquarters in Lausanne, Ireland avoided Korea, Belgium and the United States and instead will meet the world No.15 nation - the lowest ranked of their potential opponents.
However, as Ireland proved at last year's World Cup in London, rankings can be deceptive as Mullan's team came home with the silver medals, having entered the tournament as the second lowest rated team of the 16 participants.
Canada's recent record is impressive, having clinched the runners up spot at the Pan-Americans games last month, beating the higher ranked USA en route to securing their highest finish on their continental stage since 1991.
Mullan's optimism after a record-equalling fifth place at the more difficult European Championship in Antwerp is therefore tempered by a degree of caution.
The Coleraine woman said: "We're delighted now that we know who we've got so we can focus in on preparing for the Canada games."
"We know them relatively well and have already got a lot of background work done on them.
"We played them just before last Olympic qualifier four years ago and we also faced them last summer before the World Cup when they got the better of us."
"They've been building for a couple of years and starting to get results so we know it's going to be a battle."
However, Mullan is delighted Ireland are at home and believes it can work in her team's favour rather than impose additional pressure.
She added: "I think we saw last summer at the World Cup in London, it felt like we were playing at home because of the number of fans that turned up."
"Everyone getting behind us drove us on and gave us the extra push so we're just hoping we get the whole nation and a sea of green behind us again.
"The most important thing for us is to back up what we did at the World Cup and show that we can perform in big tournaments and, hopefully, see what we can do at an Olympic Games."