Katie Mullan seeking to light Ireland's Olympic fire

Irish women’s hockey team set for Olympic qualification campaign

Ireland, captained by Katie Mullan (centre), were surprise finalists at the Women's Hockey World Cup last summer and Ireland's men hope to follow in their footsteps
Ireland, captained by Katie Mullan (centre), were surprise finalists at the Women's Hockey World Cup back in 2018.

Katie Mullan knows how quickly dreams can take flight. How quickly they can carry you to an unearthly place of immeasurable heights. A place where those same dreams can come true.

Can, but not will. There is no certainty in sport. There are even fewer fairytales.

For Katie Mullan knows how quickly dreams can be crushed. How quickly they can drop you from immeasurable heights to an unearthly place, seemingly lower than the place you began. A place where dreams of past, present and future go to die.

2018 was like a rollercoaster on helium, off the rails, scaling the heights that physics said were impossible. A World Cup final for an Irish women’s hockey team was mythical. A woman from Coleraine can now proudly tell you that it is history.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. Gravity struck in the form of a 6-0 beating at the hands of a rampant Netherlands, and Ireland have yet to hit those heights since.

A fifth placed finish in their pool in the Tokyo Olympics felt like an underachievement for a talented group. Hannah McLoughlin said as much after the tournament ending defeat to Great Britain:

“It is raw emotion. Firstly, not getting to the quarter-finals, which I think we were more than capable of.

“Secondly, knowing this is probably a few of our players’ last games. It is not the send-off any of us wanted to give them.

“But we have broken the ceiling, coming to the Olympics and for those of us fortunate enough to keep going, we want to push on for Paris and then go for quarters and semis.”

Which takes us to the present. McLoughlin soldiers on as the flame is set to rekindle on the Olympic torch. So too captain Mullan.

Katie Mullan celebrates after Eoghan Rua's All-Ireland Junior Club Championship final win
Katie Mullan celebrates after Eoghan Rua's All-Ireland Junior Club Championship final win

Olympic qualification begins in Valencia on Saturday, January 16, as Ireland face Belgium, Ukraine, and Korea in a four-day-period. The Belgians, ranked 4th in the world compared to the Irish in 13th, provide the trickiest of openers, but Ireland will be favourites to account for the other two.

And with training on home soil concluded, Mullan used all her experience to disguise her giddiness ahead of the campaign:

“We’re very much focused on ourselves and taking one game at a time. Our eyes are focused on the Belgium opener and it’s going to be a fantastic game.

“There’s a real good buzz and atmosphere around the team and you are going to see that whenever you watch the team play in the tournament.

“Sharing learning experiences from previous tournaments is important for the younger players, but it’s equally important for the older players to feed off the freshness and excitement that the younger girls bring.

“I think the blend is something very special and it stands to you in crucial moments. We left no stone unturned; our preparation has been second to none.”

With only three qualifying places up for grabs, Ireland will be aiming for a spot in the final to ensure qualification, with the top two sides in each group facing off in the last four.

Spain, Great Britain, Canada and Malaysia make up Group B, where the hosts and Britain will be among the pre-tournament favourites to claim glory, alongside Belgium.

Ireland’s 18 strong squad for the tournament was announced in December.

Ireland squad: Elizabeth Murphy, Ayeisha McFerran, Elena Neill, Roisin Upton (vice-captain), Sarah McAuley, Ellen Curran, Bethany Harper, Hannah McLoughlin, Katie McKee, Sarah Hawkshaw, Chloe Watkins, Charlotte Beggs, Michelle Carey, Sarah Torrans, Katie Mullan (captain), Deirdre Duke, Naomi Carroll, Niamh Carey.