Ireland 3 (L Tice, R Upton, A O’Flanagan) Czech Republic 1 (B Haklova)
Late goals from Roisín Upton and Anna O’Flanagan put the Irish women within a result of retaining their status at the top table of European hockey as they saw off the Czech Republic 3-1 at the European Championships in Amsterdam.
It puts them in good shape to stay up provided they can get something from already safe Spain on Saturday morning.
Lose, though, and they could be in danger of being pipped by Scotland on goal difference, something Shirley McCay – on the day she became first woman to reach 250 international caps – alluded to.
“We knew if we didn’t take our chances, we were always going to be in a battle,” she said. “We created enough and were fairly comfortable all game.”
Hopes of a deluge were boosted inside 25 seconds when Lena Tice slammed home a penalty corner right away. But the Czechs, the tournament’s low ranks, dug in and made life extremely difficult.
Upton saw a penalty stroke hit the post to heighten the anxiety in the crowd keen for a bigger margin of lead.
After some first-half Czech forays, they reverted to a deep-lying defence in the second half that left Graham Shaw’s side camped in the opposition 23-metre area with goalkeeper Grace O’Flanagan a spectator for the guts of the tie.
The counter-punch, though, in the 47th minute from Barbora Haklova put Ireland in real jeopardy, a classy volley to compound a defensive error latched onto by Klara Hanzlova – their first circle penetration for 22 minutes.
Upton’s reply a minute later put Ireland back ahead, a powerful drag-flick down the left channel. Anna O’Flanagan then scored Ireland’s first goal from play this week with a delightful near post touch to Emily Beatty’s cross with six minutes to go.
As has been the case on many occasions in the last decade, it sends Ireland’s hopes down to the last day, something McCay knows all too well having stayed up in 2009 and 2011 before enduring relegation in 2013.
“This European tournament is the hardest you will play in. There’s no second chances and if you don’t play well, you don’t do well. In the relegation play-offs, there’s almost more pressure than the top four so these are key games for us, gaining experience.”
The Irish men, meanwhile, start their relegation pool campaign against Spain at 1.45pm on Friday, a win would seal their top tier place.
IRELAND: G O'Flanagan, Y O'Byrne, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, G Pinder, C Watkins, N Daly, A O'Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke. Subs: N Evans, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, H Matthews, A Meeke, C Cassin
CZECH REPUBLIC: B Cechakova, K Lacina, A Kolarova, J Reichlova, K Poloprutska, K Hanzlova, K Dukatova, T Mejzlikova, V Novakova, A Lehovcova, B Haklova. Subs: K Jirsova, V Decsyova, A Vorlova, N Babicka, B Kavanova, N Novakova, A Vancurova
Umpires: K Alves (FRA), V Bagdanskiene (LTU)