In the annals of Irish women’s hockey, there are precious few wins over England on the ledger but such is the buoyant mood around the current camp, skipper Katie Mullan says “anything is possible”.
Her side meet the World Cup hosts on Sunday evening with an enviable shot to nothing. Wins over the US and India mean a quarter-final slot is already assured and the pressure off when the teams meet in Lee Valley on Sunday at 7pm.
Being top of the group also means an additional two rest days, something which Graham Shaw is delighted to have given the heavy strapping sported by the likes of Roisín Upton and Megan Frazer.
While the result is immaterial from an Irish perspective, there is always an extra importance to a tie against England. Add in that Lee Valley will have 10,500 predominantly local fans and this was always the eye-catching draw once the groups were revealed.
It is a case of the haves against the have-nots. England are the most monied of the national federations in the competition and have central contracts for all their players. With eight Olympic gold medalists and a world number-two ranking, they are among the favourites on paper for the competition.
In stark contrast, Ireland only picked up sponsor support in June of this year following many pleas over the last few years while just three players are not either students or workers. Of that trio of Anna O’Flanagan, Nikki Evans and Chloe Watkins, all have taken work sabbaticals to pursue this dream.
They face an England team who have found things a little sticky so far, pegged back twice by USA and India for 1-1 draws. It means there is a permutation that could see them finish bottom of the group while, at best, they have a crossover date to contend with early next week.
England coach, Danny Kerry, has tried to grasp the underdog status due to the current group position but Ireland know the expectation will weigh heavily on his side.
“We are buzzing for that game, a sell-out crowd, nothing to lose,” O’Flanagan said. “They have everything to play for and the pressure is on them."
“Ah jaysus, it’s like Christmas,” Nicci Daly added about being in such a situation, adding that the Irish crowd will make their mark despite being outnumbered in the stands.
“Either way, we will just embrace it. I think we will have a good crowd out and we will play our game and see where it takes us.”
For Shaw, he has frequently extolled the virtues of enjoying the moment.
“We have been pretty relaxed going into each game. We can really enjoy that atmosphere. There’s maybe a little pressure on them, none on us. We want to perform well and continue on this run. It’s a dream come true for these girls to play in front of a crowd of that size and I am really looking forward to it.”
As for next Thursday’s quarter-final, the picture will become somewhat clearer over the weekend with seven possible opponents being reduced to four.
Video analyst Mark Kavanagh will probably be the busiest man during this time, clipping packages or each opponent for Shaw.
“The girls have been preparing well without cooping them up in a hotel. They have really looked at the small details to see where we can make the big differences. In the meantime, we will be building up databases on each team and when those games happen, we will be as prepared as we possibly can be.”