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Shirley nears 300 caps in Belgium draw

Record holder: Shirley McCay extended her appearance tally
Record holder: Shirley McCay extended her appearance tally

By John Flack

Ireland's women produced a much improved display in Antwerp yesterday to draw 2-2 with Belgium after going down 4-2 in the first game of the two-match series.

In doing so, they ended a six-game losing streak against the world number nine nation, who are ranked just one place lower than Sean Dancer's team on the global list.

Shirley McCay was one of six Ulster women in the match-day squad as she extended her record caps tally to just 10 short of the 300 mark.

However, Ayeisha McFerran was unable to play again, having also missed Wednesday's opening game of the series.

The 23-year-old Larne woman, voted best goalkeeper at last year's World Cup in London, is suffering from a quad injury which may render her a doubtful starter for the European Championship opener against England on Sunday week at the same venue.

McFerran's injury concerns aside, Ireland head coach Dancer was delighted with the way his team responded yesterday as both sides continued their build-up for the Europeans.

Ireland also face Belarus and Germany in the showpiece which counts towards world rankings as Ireland strive to maintain their standing to secure a home Olympic qualifier in Dublin in either late October or early November.

Dancer said: "Playing the tournament hosts in their own back yard was a perfect test for us and I think Belgium are doing a lot of good stuff at the moment and they were certainly a hard team to play against."

"They have a good junior programme that leads into their senior programme, and they are well resourced with good coaches.

"Hockey's not rocket science so they've put all of those elements together and it proved to be very useful trip all round."

He added: "The girls were able to get used to playing on the same pitch they will encounter at the Europeans and we were staying at the tournament hotel so we got to see the lie of the land."

Trailing early on, Ireland levelled matters in the second half when team captain Katie Mullan hammered home after great work by Deirdre Duke, who had chased down a loose ball and crossed from the base line.

The hosts made it 2-1 but, once again the spirited Irish fought back and Nikki Evans grabbed a late equaliser, to make it three goals in her last three starts. Dancer will name his squad for the European Championship on Monday with the likes of World Cup silver medallists McFerran, Mullan, McCay, Zoe Wilson and Lizzie Colvin all likely to be included.

The absence of another member of the Ulster contingent, Megan Frazer, through injury could open the door for Serena Barr, the Belfast Harlequins player, to come in as a replacement.

Dubliner Ellen Curran is also in contention for a spot in the 18-strong panel for the return trip to Belgium.

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