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Versatile Katie Mullan has crucial role in Ireland's Rio bid

By John Flack

Versatility is the name of the game for Katie Mullan, who will be a key player in Ireland's World League 2 bid which begins in Dublin on Saturday when Ukraine provide the opposition.

It's the first stage of the Olympic qualifying process and, with the men's team already through to World League 3 following their success in San Diego at the weekend, it's now over to the women as they attempt to join them in the final qualifiers for Rio 2016.

Former Ballymoney striker Mullan, now with UCD, has successfully adapted to another role with Ireland as she has reverted to a more defensive position when representing her country.

Mullan is also a talented camogie player while Naomi Carroll and Aine Connery are others who have switched codes.

And Ireland captain Megan Frazer believes they bring an extra dimension to the team, who must finish in the top three in Dublin to progress to the next stage in Valencia in June.

"All of the girls who have played camogie have terrific 3D skills - they are great at lifting the ball over opponents' sticks which adds an extra dimension to our skill set," she says. "They are also excellent on their backhand.

"Katie started as an out-and-out striker but in recent months she has been playing really well in an attacking full back role and she can also play further up the pitch if needed."

Mullan and her former Ballymoney team-mate Frazer, now with the Ulster Elks, are joined by three other Ulster players in national coach Darren Smith's 18-strong squad.

Shirley McCay (Ulster Elks), Loreto's Lizzie Colvin and Pegasus keeper Ayeisha McFerran complete the local contingent with only the latter, as deputy to Emma Gray, unlikely to feature in the majority of Ireland's games.

Frazer admits she knows next to nothing about Ireland's opening opponents Ukraine, who are ranked 24th in the world, or Turkey (39) but she expects Canada (22) to provide the biggest test in the group stages.

The hosts aim to finish top of Pool A which would give them a potentially easier quarter-final against the bottom team in the other pool which comprises Belarus (19), Chile (20), Austria (26) and Lithuania (34).

PEGASUS and the Ulster Elks will have no margin for error tonight when they tackle Lurgan and Randalstown respectively if they are to have any remote chance of stopping Ards from lifting the Premier League title.

If both title challengers draw their games then Ards would be guaranteed the trophy with a win over struggling Lisnagarvey at Comber Road on Saturday.

If, however, Pegasus and the Elks were to win, Ards would need four points to be crowned champions with two other games to come, both against Belfast Harlequins.

Tonight: Ulster Premier League: Pegasus v Lurgan (Upper Malone, 8.15pm); Ulster Elks v Randalstown (UUJ, 7.45pm)

Saturday: World League 2 (UCD): Pool A: Ireland v Ukraine (2.45pm)

Ulster Premier League: Ballymoney v Lurgan (Joey Dunlop LC, 2.30pm); Lisnagarvey v Ards (Comber Road, 1pm); Belfast Harlequins v Randalstown (Deramore, 2.30pm)

Senior One: Victorians v Ballymena (Upper Malone, 4pm); North Down v Dungannon (Comber LC, 2.30pm)

Sunday: World League 2: Pool A: Canada v Ireland (3.15pm).

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