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Mullan in top form as slick Irish make a winning start in Spain

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Katie Mullan

Katie Mullan

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Katie Mullan

Ireland captain Katie Mullan set up two of the goals as her team opened their account with an impressive 4-1 win over Spain in the first of five internationals in Murcia yesterday.

It was a triumphant return to action for the Irish, who were playing their first competitive match for almost a year.

Last January, Ireland played a total of five games against South Africa and Germany in Stellenbosch with mixed results. Then the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of several games in 2020, including a series with China and warm weather training camps in Malaysia and South Africa.

More recently, none of the players were able to play for their clubs in the Irish Hockey League after October, with just a handful of fixtures possible before proceedings were halted.

In contrast, Spain's players have been in league and international action, playing a three-match series with Belgium in Valencia a fortnight ago.

Eight Ulster woman are in southern Spain for the current series against the 2018 World Cup bronze medallists, who also finished third in the 2019 European Championship.

Ireland have been drawn in the same pool as Spain in this year's Euros, but have avoided them in the Tokyo Olympics.

Mullan's side showed few signs of ring rustiness in a dominant performance against their hosts, who are operating with a pre-Olympic training panel of 33.

Ireland have reduced their squad to 23, with 18 to go to the Euros in Amsterdam in June and 16 plus two travelling reserves to be named for Tokyo.

Five women in the current squad will therefore miss out on any involvement in what will be Ireland's first Olympic appearance so the trip to Spain is a vitally important element of the selection process.

Belfast Harlequins star Megan Frazer and uncapped Ards striker Zara Malseed were among the players to sit out yesterday's game.

Frazer is still being troubled by a long-term knee injury while Malseed is carrying a knock.

Also sitting out yesterday's opening game of the series due to injury was Catholic Institute defender Roisin Upton while another 2018 World Cup silver medallist, goalkeeper Grace O'Flanagan was rested.

Spain took an early lead which they held until the end of the first quarter before Ireland slipped into gear.

Mullan stole possession early in the second period and, after some neat interplay with Nicci Daly, set up Nikki Evans for the equaliser at the far post.

The Ballymoney player-coach then provided the opportunity for Deirdre Duke to score the go-ahead goal after the long break.

Duke got her second in the third quarter, making it 3-1 after good build-up play from Anna O'Flanagan and Daly.

O'Flanagan then turned scorer late on, sealing the win when she fired home from the edge of the circle after a swift counter attack.

Belfast Telegraph


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