Ireland’s Road to Tokyo took a big leap forward as they saw off the Czech Republic with plenty to spare in their FIH Series’ semi-final at a drenched Banbridge.
They converted their first two penalty corners in the second quarter to get their noses in front on a slow surface and never looked back.
It guarantees Ireland a place in next October’s direct Olympic qualifiers and they can strengthen their case for a crucial home date if they win Sunday’s final.
The first quarter was a stodgy affair with the Czechs more rudimentary long-ball approach paying early dividends.
Ireland survived two chances in that phase but soon started to carve openings with Deirdre Duke and Anna O’Flanagan going close.
In such conditions, set-pieces were key and the breakthrough came from a 19th penalty corner. Shirley McCay’s angled power-slap was possibly intended for a Katie Mullan touch but had enough whip on it to beat the defender on the line for a 19th-minute lead.
Three minutes later, Zoe Wilson’s shot from another corner variation took a heavy defensive deflection and Ireland were 2-0 up.
It broke the Czech resolve who barely offered a threat after that but the floodgates did not fully open for a long time as the Green Army spurned numerous chances.
The tension was taken out of the game, however, when McCay retrieved the ball on the right baseline and took her time to pick out Sarah Hawkshaw for a simple tap-in and her third goal of her maiden tournament. O’Flanagan completed the rout with 30 seconds to go.
Earlier in the day, Eugene Magee netted twice for the Irish men as they started off their FIH Series Finals campaign on the front foot with a 4-2 win over Scotland.
He started the scoring in the second minute before the Scots fought back to level at 1-1 soon after. But Shane O’Donoghue and Magee put daylight between the sides and Michael Robson made the game safe with 20 minutes to go.
They play Egypt – who beat Singapore 3-0 – in their second group game on Sunday (12.30pm Irish time)
A McFerran, K Mullan, L Tice, G Pinder, B Barr, L Colvin, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke, A Meeke
R Upton, C Brown, S McCay, C Watkins, N Daly, S Hawkshaw, E Buckley
B Cechakova, K Lacina, J Reichlova, A Koziskova, T Mejzlikova, V Novakova, A Lehovcova, A Kolarova, V Decsyova, A Vorlova, N Novakova
T Holubcova, N Hajkova, K Jelinkova, R Capouchova, N Babicka, M Hlavata, B Brizova