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McCay focused as Ireland aim to step up Olympic mission

 

Cap that: Shirley McCay is keen to inspire Ireland to another final
Cap that: Shirley McCay is keen to inspire Ireland to another final

By John Flack

Shirley McCay hopes to be turning her thoughts to the final stage of the Olympic qualifying process by the time she resumes the mantle of being Ireland's most-capped hockey player of all time on Tuesday.

Banbridge man Eugene Magee leapfrogged the Pegasus defender to move to 280 appearances in the green shirt when he played for Ireland in two games against France at Lisnagarvey during the week.

However, provided she stays injury-free, McCay will be back on top after she adds three more caps to her tally by the time Ireland conclude the first phase of the FIH Hockey Series event at Havelock Park.

They kick off their campaign against Malaysia this afternoon (3pm) before meeting Czech Republic tomorrow and Singapore on Tuesday.

If they can win all of those three matches, Ireland will then face a likely semi-final against Scotland when a win would guarantee them a top-two finish in the tournament and a place in the final eliminator for Tokyo 2020.

Ireland are eighth in the world following their silver medal heroics at last year's World Cup and are the highest ranked nation of the eight taking part.

However, McCay insists none of the other participants can be taken for granted, even though Singapore, who are 36th on the global list, are well behind Malaysia (22nd) and Czech Republic (19th).

"There is absolutely no room for complacency and we're doing everything we can to make sure we are in as good a position as possible going into the tournament," said the 31-year-old.

"It has been superb being able to get used to the environment in Banbridge and the pitch in particular with plenty of build-up matches against boys' and girls' teams as well as a match against India Under-21s in Dublin.

"It's paramount that we hit the ground running and Malaysia are going to be tricky opponents for starters.

"Like any Asian team they have a different style to us Europeans and they have a couple of good forwards who will run at us and a few distributors at the back, so we have to be wary of that but, hopefully, we'll do the business and start well."

Tomorrow's game against the Czechs is likely to be more difficult and McCay remembers only too well that they produced a major upset at the last European Championship series in Amsterdam.

The eastern Europeans beat Scotland 1-0 to keep McCay's team in the top-flight after Ireland had beaten the Czechs 3-1 in the group stages.

She added: "They are very tough and physical and quite a few of them play their club hockey together, so they will be well used to each other.

"They'll see this tournament as an opportunity to get a few good results so we will have to be on our guard when we play them as well."

Meanwhile, Glenanne men began their EuroHockey Trophy series in Wettingen, Switzerland with a 4-4 draw against Belarus side Stroitel Brest.

The Dubliners were 3-1 up but needed a late goal to force a draw after conceding three times in three minutes in the third quarter.

Glenanne, who are hoping to win the second-tier series to earn promotion for Lisnagarvey next season, had scorers in Stephen Brownlow (2), Eddie O'Malley and Brad Venter.

Today, Joe Brennan's side take on their Swiss hosts Wettingen with their final pool game against Portugal's Casa Pia, and they need to finish top to reach the final.

This is likely to be Brennan's last European campaign as he is contemplating stepping down as a player during the close season.

But he is determined to go out at the top, and that would mean winning this Euro series and guaranteeing two Irish representatives - Three Rock Rovers and Lisnagarvey - in next season's top-flight campaign.

Women's FIH Hockey series (Havelock Park, Banbridge)

Today: Pool A: Ireland v Malaysia (3pm); Czech Republic v Singapore (5pm).

Pool B: Korea v Ukraine (11am); Scotland v France (1pm).

Tomorrow: Pool A: Ireland v Czech Republic (3pm); Malaysia v Singapore (5pm).

Pool B: Ukraine v France (11am); Scotland v Korea (1pm).

Men's EuroHockey Trophy (Wettingen, Switerland)

Today: Glenanne v Wettingen (3.45pm).

Tomorrow: Glenanne v Casa Pia (1.30pm).

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