Ireland on brink of Euro Championship qualification with win over Czechs

Ireland 1 (K Mullan) Czech Republic 0

Katie Mullan’s 21st minute goal has Ireland on the brink of qualification for the 2023 European Championships as they made it two wins from two at the Sport Ireland Campus this week with a 1-0 success over the Czech Republic.

She struck with a powerful backhand shot and while her side had numerous other chances to make the game safer, this was enough to record the win.

“It feels good,” said Mullan of the success. “It is only the second part of the job done but we have another big part of the work complete. Tomorrow is another big game and Turkey have some nifty players. A good performance today; we left a couple of goals out there but it was important to get the win.”

Ireland were in control from start to finish with the Czechs unable to muster a shot on Ayeisha McFerran’s goal but Ireland were unable to build on their first half lead to make the result safer, sooner.

“We are getting closer and closer to being a clinical side; there are a few of us up front who haven’t played a while lot together so we are building those connections. Each game, it feels like we are on the brink [of cutting loose]. We know we need to put more in the back of the net but, all in all, to be as in control as we were from the first to last minute was a big positive.”

Visiting keeper Barbora Chechakova produced some wonder saves before the goal, somehow denying Mullan from close range in the third minute with a sprawling block when the net beckoned.

The lively Deirdre Duke also went close while a rasping Mullan shot also hit the outside of the goal as the Czech goal led a charmed life.

Michelle Carey’s direct running was a constant source of pressure while Duke’s close range deflection was tipped over by Cechakova from a Sarah McAuley baseline cross.

And the goal inevitably arrived when Róisín Upton’s long overhead ball was not dealt with as the lurking Mullan picked up the ball and fired home on her backhand.

Cechakova continued her heroics with a diving intervention to halt Niamh Carey’s run through on goal. The half closed with Ireland’s first penalty corner, Upton’s drag blocked by the Czech netminder.

The second half was tighter though the hosts continued in the ascendancy with the Czechs unable to mount a circle penetration of note. Sarah Torrans went closest to doubling the score, her shot somehow saved by Chechakova’s instep in the 42nd minute.

Three more penalty corners came and went to no avail but the points always looked assured and they march on to Sunday’s final challenge of this round-robin competition, leading the group on six points and need a draw or better on Sunday against Turkey to qualifier for next summer’s top tier.

Turkey, for their part, lost 2-0 to Poland in their second game to sit on one point beside the Czechs. Maria Drozda opened the scoring in that contest with a smart finish close in. Marlena Rybacha then thumped home a penalty corner shot in the second half to complete the victory.

Mullan says the 33rd ranked Turks are not to be underestimated and are much improved since the sides last met in 2015 – a 13-0 victory for Ireland.

“The side we have seen the last few days is very different. They throw different things at you that we are not used to so we will suss them out and prepare for tomorrow’s game.”

And the Ballymoney woman is looking forward to seeing even more faces on the sidelines at the impressive Sport Ireland Campus venue where many kids enjoyed a meet and greet post-match with the Irish skipper and her team mates.

“It is fantastic to be here. We put a lot of training into this pitch but to play national games with a home crowd and so many young fans is brilliant.

“It’s fantastic when you ask the kids where they are from, they are from all round the country – it’s not just Leinster kids, there’s kids from Munster and Ulster and some from Connacht. It’s fantastic to see and we need to encourage this more to be able to repeat this at the Sport Ireland Campus.”

Ireland: A McFerran, S McAuley, M Carey, R Upton, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan, L Tice, N Carroll, C Perdue, D Duke, C Hamill
Subs: N Carey, H McLoughlin, S Torrans, C Beggs, K McKee, E Curran

Czech Republic: B Cechakova, K Lacina, L Duchkova, V Pribikova, K Topinkova, T Mejzlikova, V Novakova, A Lehovcova, A Kolarova, N Babicka, E Merxbauerova
Subs: K Basova, M Smidova, A Koziskova, A Vorlova, N Tlamsova, N Novakova

Women’s EuroHockey Championship qualifiers (all at the Sport Ireland Campus)
August 20:
Poland 2 (M Drozda, M Rybacha) Turkey 0
Ireland 1 (K Mullan) Czech Republic 0

Standings: 1. Ireland 6pts (+4) 2. Poland 3pts (-1) 3. Czech Republic 1pt (-1) 4. Turkey 1pt (-2)

Sunday, August 21:
Poland v Czech Republic, 10.45am
Ireland v Turkey, 1pm

Photos:- Inpho Photography