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London is calling for Irish thanks to the amazing Grace


By John Flack

Katie Mullan has lavished praise on stand-in goalkeeper Grace O'Flanagan, whose heroics in the 2-1 win over India in Johannesburg on Saturday, have all but sealed Ireland's place in next year's World Cup after a 16-year absence.

The Railway Union player came off the bench after Ulster's Ayeisha McFerran was sin-binned after conceding a penalty-stroke in the 24th minute, when India were already 1-0 up.

With her first touch of the ball O'Flanagan made a superb stop to save Rani Rampai's effort and then she denied the Asians a second goal with several outstanding saves early in the second-half, having been kept on.

Then it was left to Ulster players Mullan and Lizzie Colvin to score two penalty-corners in the space of three minutes at the start of the final quarter to seal a crucial victory and seventh place overall.

If the outcome of the next three out of the five continental championships go to form and are won by teams that have already qualified through the World League 3 series, then three more tickets to the London showpiece will be freed up and Ireland should be celebrating for real by October.

Ireland captain Mullan said: "Grace is very diligent, very intelligent and she prepared every day as if she would be playing."

"As soon as she saved the stroke, I knew we were going to win the game. Grace brought a new lease of life to all of us and it was her performance that pulled us through.

"We stuck to the process, didn't panic and didn't try and force it. We left it late but we got there in the end and now we have to wait a little but we're preparing to go to London and I'm so, so proud of the girls.

Zoe Wilson, who was a strong candidate for Ireland's player-of-the-tournament, paid tribute to squad's dedication in the build-up which involved twice-weekly 6.30am starts at the Dundonald gym, run by Belfast Giant Colin Shields.

The Belfast Harlequins player added: "I have no doubt those early mornings paid dividends especially when our fitness was tested at altitude."

"We were in great physical shape going into the tournament and we knew that no team could out-work us. It was physically and mentally challenging but a great learning experience for me and hopefully, we've now done enough to get to London."

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