Duke strikes twice as Ireland prove too strong for Spain

Dancer’s squad step up preparations for Olympic year with first game in almost 12 months

Deirdre Duke: scored a brace for Ireland in the victory over Spain in Murcia. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Deirdre Duke: scored a brace for Ireland in the victory over Spain in Murcia. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Ireland 4 Spain 1

Ireland’s women got their Olympic year off to an upbeat start with a 4-1 success over Spain in Murcia with Deirdre Duke firing home on the double.

It is the first of five uncapped matches for the Green Army, their first in almost 12 months, but they showed little ring-rust in a good run-out.

The hosts took a first quarter lead but Ireland bounced back in the second phase when Katie Mullan stole possession, exchanged passes with Nicci Daly to set up Nikki Evans on the back post.

Duke’s squeeze shot made it 2-1 after half-time, Mullan’s interception in a press creating the danger once again.

Duke notched her second in the final quarter with Anna O’Flanagan heavily involved in the build-up play; the latter completed the win late on with a powerful strike from the top of the circle following a counter-attack from halfway.

The series is a timely one for the side after such a long hiatus, particularly for the coach Sean Dancer who admitted 2020 took a big personal strain.

He spent a total of 42 days in isolation as he had to attend to personal issues in both Australia and New Zealand before returning to Ireland without his family as originally planned.

“Fourteen days in Sydney, 14 days in Auckland. And when I got back to Ireland, I had the 14 days here. I spent six weeks of the year locked up in a room; certainly not an experience I want to do again. I am lucky to get through it and happy everyone in our group is safe and secure.”

Support network

He jokes that he passed the time watching Derry Girls on Netflix, partially to help understand Megan Frazer’s accent a little better, partially to get some of the team’s jokes.

But, while it did give plenty of time to pore over coaching elements, he says solitary confinement was something “he did not enjoy one bit and didn’t get a lot out of”.

“From August onwards was difficult without that personal support network with family on the other side the world, and not be able to really connect.

“It took a big strain on me personally. Probably what helped me get through was the support of the [Irish] squad. The motivation that I got when I turned up to training to see people that wanted to be there. It certainly helped me and it made it worthwhile for the last four months.”

As such, he is relishing getting back into action for a loaded year with June’s European Championships now doubling up as currently the sole scheduled 2022 World Cup qualifier – where a top six finish is required – before Tokyo comes into view in July. As such, the Spanish series is a welcome one.

“We need the games now; we can train all we want, but progress will be when we are tested against good opposition and Spain are very good.

“Facing the Irish Under-19 boys and senior men [in challenge matches] are a great way for us to push ourselves and practice a few things but it doesn’t replace the competition that you get from a European and world bronze medalist.”

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