O'Flanagan to the four as Irish girls maul Czechs
Ireland's women need only a draw against Singapore tomorrow to book their place in the semi-finals of the FIH Hockey series after Anna O'Flanagan hit four of the goals in a crushing 8-1 win over the Czech Republic at Banbridge's Havelock Park yesterday.
Should they get the result they need against the lowest ranked team in the tournament, who were thrashed 12-0 by Malaysia yesterday, Ireland will be one win away from a place in the final stage of Tokyo Olympic qualifying.
Ireland's other goals came from Nicci Daly (2), Zoe Wilson and Sarah Hawkshaw in an emphatic win in which they never took the foot off the gas.
Katie Mullan's side had opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over Malaysia on Saturday but they played much better yesterday, helped by the drier underfoot conditions which enabled them to play at a higher tempo.
The Ireland captain said: "It was nice to be playing under sunny skies for a change and I thought we produced a really complete performance.
"We scored some good team goals with some great build-up play which was pleasing and our penalty corner execution was very good as well.
"We are where we wanted to be after two games but we'll be looking to build on that display against Singapore, although we'll give them the respect they deserve."
Ireland got off to a dream start when Daly scored the opener after only four minutes, tapping home from close range after O'Flanagan's shot had been saved.
O'Flanagan was a constant threat and she got her due reward in the 15th minute when she poked home a pass from Chloe Watkins.
In the 34th minute the Dublin woman, who has just finished a second season playing in Holland, got Ireland's third, skilfully making space for herself before firing home on her open side after a neat shimmy.
Hawkshaw then set up a chance for Lizzie Colvin but the Czech keeper came to the rescue and Shirley McCay fired over as Ireland controlled proceedings.
In the 42nd minute, Wilson, one of seven Ulster woman in the squad, added number four when she scored with a first time shot after an assist from McCay who had taken a quick free.
Two minutes into the final quarter, Hawkshaw got number five, diving to push home Lena Tice's penalty corner.
O'Flanagan completed her hat-trick in the 49th minute, with a set-piece deflection and then added her fourth from a Gill Pinder cross.
The Czechs pulled one back through Jinriska Reichlova with six minutes left before Daly completed the rout, scoring at the near post after good work by Mullan.
On Saturday, Bethany Barr marked her tournament debut with her first goal for Ireland to complete a memorable seven days which began when she travelled to Liverpool to a fan zone to watch the Reds lift the Champions League.
Earning only her ninth cap after making her debut earlier this year in Chile, the former Lurgan defender, now with UCD, scored a deflection from a penalty corner opener after only three minutes with Mullan also on target before Malaysia pulled one back.
Barr said: "It has been quite a week for me, and an exciting one being a lifelong Liverpool supporter.
"But the hockey was just the high on the mountain top, just to get the three points and the goal was something special.
"To be playing in front of my friends and family just a short drive away from where I live made it an extra special day for me but the result was the most important thing."
FIH Series finals (Banbridge):
Sunday: Pool A: Ireland 8 (A O'Flanagan 4, N Daly 2, S Hawkshaw, Z Wilson) Czech Republic 1; Malaysia 12 Singapore 0; Standings: 1 Ireland 6pts; 2 Malaysia 3; 3 Czech Republic 3; 4 Singapore 0 Pool B: Ukraine 3 France 2; Scotland 1 Korea 3; Standings: 1 Korea 6pts; 2 France 3; 3 Ukraine 3; 4 Scotland 0.
Saturday: Pool A: Ireland 2 (B Barr, K Mullan) Malaysia 1; Czech Republic 5 Singapore 0; Pool B: Korea 5 Ukraine 0; Scotland 1 France 2.
Tomorrow: Pool A: Malaysia v Czech Republic (12pm); Ireland v Singapore (2pm); Pool B: Korea v France (4pm); Ukraine v Scotland (6pm).