Muller proud as Ireland set up Olympic showdown with Belgians

Gene Muller hailed Ireland’s women’s win over Spain yesterday in Kontich, Belgium as the “biggest result” of his tenure as his side now look forward to a play-off on Sunday for an Olympic berth.

“It was such a high pressure game with so much at stake. It was effectively a semi-final,” Muller said. “Whoever won it was going to play in the final but we stuck to the task, played really well in patches.”

Audrey O’Flynn had Ireland ahead in the sixth minute as she flashed home a high drag-flick but Barbara Malda responded within a minute. O’Flynn, though, nailed her seventh of the competition low for a 2-1 half-time lead.

Then amid a spate of Spanish sin-binnings, they were caught cold with seven minutes to go. The Spaniards actually had a penalty corner of their own but the immaculate Emma Gray saved, presenting the ball perfectly for Cliodhna Sargent to clear. Two passes later, Nikki Symmons and Nikki Evans had created the chance for Alex Speers to kill the game off.

Ireland play Belgium this evening in a dead-rubber with both sides qualified for the final before meeting again on Sunday in the all-important clash.

Meanwhile, Jason Lynch’s hopes of making an unlikely return to Cork Church of Ireland colours for tomorrow’s crucial Munster league showdown with Cork Harlequins have been dashed.

Having recently departed from Belgian outfit Racing Brussells, Irish international midfielder Lynch had hoped to link up with his childhood club for the remainder of the domestic campaign.

But with transfers after January 1 prohibited without special exemption, Lynch will be a spectator as the blues go to Harlequin Park (3pm) knowing anything less than three points will see Quins retain their Munster crown.

There’s a similarly important showdown in West Cork, where Bandon meet UCC (1.15pm), given the winner is very likely to take third place and an Irish Hockey League wildcard playoff spot.

Elsewhere, it’s Munster Senior Cup semi-final weekend with holders Catholic Institute fancied to advance at Ashton while Cork Harlequins will be mindful that Bandon stunned them at this stage in 2009 when they host the West Cork outfit.

Ireland: E Gray, C Sargent, E Smyth, E Clarke, A Speers, L Jacob, S McCarthy, A Connery, N Symmons, O’Flynn, Colvin.

Subs: M Harvey, M Crowley, N Evans, S McCay, N Daly

Spain: M Lopez de Eguilaz, J Menendez, RY Barra, B Bonastre, M Prat, S Munoz, B Malda, P Sanchez, B Perez, G Comerma, G Oliva.

Subs: M Lopez, C Petchame, R Huertas, O Pineiro, A Flores.

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