The Ireland Women’s Hockey team took to Murcia last week for a warm-weather training camp with one eye firmly on their Olympic goals for Tokyo 2020.
Awaiting them in Murcia, world number seven ranked Spain and a five-match friendly series against the hosts.
Each member of the team underwent Covid-19 testing prior to leaving for the camp, followed by an isolation period before travelling, and will face testing again on return to Ireland.
Ireland took an early lead in the five-match friendly series with a 4 – 1 win over their hosts. Spain scored in the opening quarter, however, Evans hit the back post for the equaliser before half time.
A steal from Mullan in the third quarter provided Duke with the opportunity to give Ireland a goal lead. A Daly and O’Flanagan build-up saw Duke further Ireland’s lead in the final quarter, before O’Flanagan’s strike from the top of the circle sealed a fourth and final goal of the match.
The second match of the series saw the hosts take the win by a single goal. Ireland went a goal up early in the first quarter with a strike from Niamh Carey after a turnover from Evans.
Spain secured an equaliser from a penalty corner after an initial save from McFerran. A second penalty corner to the hosts gave them a 2 – 1 lead over the Irish team.
A rebound from another penalty corner in the second half gave Spain a further lead, with Duke scoring for Ireland in the final quarter to bring the score to Spain 3 – 2 Ireland.
In a quick turnaround, the following day saw Ireland take a 2 goal victory with 2 late goals from O’Flanagan after a tight game. Ireland had a lot of circle entries but outcomes evaded them until the final five minutes.
A strong Spanish side pressed aggressively but the final score remained Spain 0 – 2 Ireland after hard work on a hot day.
The fourth match in the series resulted in a draw between the two sides.
A strong start from Ireland with a goal from Zara Malseed gave an early lead. A penalty corner to Spain in the second quarter gave them an equaliser, however, Malseed delivered again in the third quarter with the assistance of Hannah McLoughlin to reclaim Ireland’s lead.
The equaliser came again in the final quarter from Spain’s Gigi to close the match Spain 2 – 2 Ireland.
The final match of the series saw the sides draw level again. Spain secured the first goal of the match in the opening quarter. While the second quarter of the game became a goal-fest.
A goal from Spain’s Gigi after some great skill in the circle Ireland was met with an almost immediate response from Malseed. Spain secured a penalty corner strike a minute later. Ireland responded again with a tap in from Duke after a great build-up from Malseed and O’Flanagan.
Spain replied again with another penalty corner strike. After 5 goals from the sides within 6 minutes, the half time score was Spain 4 – 2 Ireland.
A penalty corner for Ireland saw Lena Tice reduce the hosts lead in the third quarter, before securing the equaliser in the final quarter with another flick from a penalty corner.
A tough year
“You can train all you want, but nothing beats playing International hockey again. Not just for the competition, but also the mindset of the group. It has been a tough year for everyone, everywhere and we are very lucky that we are able to continue some quality development towards our Tokyo goals”, said Ireland head coach Sean Dancer about the games.
“We travelled with our full current squad, providing all players the opportunity to get some game time again.”
“Even though our performances were not consistent, we did show periods of high-quality play, including scoring field goals in every game. Always pleasing to see development in key areas that you are working hard on.”
“We will review the series and reassess the programme for our next steps, taking away some good lessons from our Spain series, not just on the field.”
The matches were played as part of a friendly unofficial series and were therefore uncapped matches. Spain are currently ranked 7th in World just above Ireland.
The sides will face each other at European Championships later this year.