Congratulations once again to the Ireland Women’s Hockey Team.
Aine Connery’s nerveless penalty saw Ireland land the World League Round 2 title at Belfield, completing a perfect week with a final victory over Canada.
It came at the end of a pulsating final that ended 1-1, Nikki Evans and Holly Stewart netting close range goals from penalty corners in the third quarter.
The sides were inseparable thereafter, leading to the shoot-out with Connery scoring the vital goal in the final round, winning out 4-3. Ayeisha McFerran, still just 19 years old, played a huge part, too, saving Canada’s fifth penalty with a superb display of agility.
Played out in front of a capacity crowd that included President Michael D Higgins, it provided a fitting finale for a week in which Ireland also progressed their Olympic hopes.
By reaching the final, Ireland earned one of two spots to World League Round 3 in June which acts as the final Olympic qualifying tournament.
Ireland burst out of the blocks in the final with Emma Smyth winning an early penalty corner that Katie Mullan squeezed through the defences of Kaitlynn Williams only for Abigail Raye to scoop the ball off the line.
Nikki Evans was next to try her luck with a vicious high shot that Williams – later named goalkeeper of the tournament – did well to palm away. Kate Dillon volleyed another just past the post before Canada found their feet in the second quarter with Natalie Sourisseau at the heart of their good work.
Emma Gray needed to be alert to deny Alex Thicke from close range, ensuring the sides went into half time scoreless.
Within 35 seconds of the restart, the deadlock was broken as Chloe Watkins, one of Ireland’s key players on the day, jinked into the circle to win a corner. Cliodhna Sargent’s bash was saved by Williams but only as far as Evans who snapped up the rebound with relish.
Canada levelled, though, in the 37th minute with a very smart move, picking out Stewart on the right post and she applied the right level of elevation to equalise.
From there, both sides had chances to win it with Gray saving from Brienne Stairs with her helmet, a fantastic stop at close quarters in the second last minute.
Ireland also had a corner chance denied on the final hooter but the chance went awry, leading to the shoot-out.
McFerran was swapped into goal for the one-on-ones and duly did enough to put off Stephanie Norlander in the first round. Ireland converted their first three efforts, from Megan Frazer, Anna O’Flanagan and Emma Smyth but the tie was locked at 3-3 going into the final round after Katie Mullan slipped her shot wide.
No matter, McFerran saved from Raye before Connery held her cool to slip home the winner as Belfield erupted.
Speaking afterwards, coach Darren Smith said it was a superb end to a great week for the Irish team.
“Fantastic crowd, the President of Ireland, friends and family all here and a chance to win a tournament. The girls were really excited for the final and, in the end, it was good spectacle. Canada did a good job but we got the result in the end.
“World League 2, from my perspective, was a great advertisement for hockey and a lot of fun.”
Key defender Shirley McCay added: “The level of our general play and our basics has improved hugely and I think we are very clear in our jobs which allows us to play with freedom and flow. It’s really enjoyable to play this way and we’re looking to build something special.”
Ireland: E Gray, C Sargent, E Smyth, N Evans, S McCay, M Frazer, N Daly, H Matthews, K Mullan, A O’Flanagan, G Pinder
Subs: N Carroll, A Connery, C Watkins, L Colvin, K Dillon, A Meeke, A McFerran
Canada: K Williams, K Gillis, D Hennig, T Culley, H Haughn, K Johansen, A Raye, N Sourisseau, S McManus, M Secco, B Stairs
Subs: H Stewart, A Woodcroft, S Johnston, S Norlander, A Thicke, R Beale, A Frisch
Although Ireland emerged victorious, Canada can look back on a their tournament performances with great pride. The side finished above higher-ranked Belarus (WR: 18) and Chile (WR: 20) in the final standings, and by reaching the final they join Ireland in qualifying for the Hockey World League Semi-Finals (Round 3).
The Bronze medal went the way of Chile, who defeated Belarus 3-2 to deny their European opponents the chance of competing in the Olympic qualifier phase of the Hockey World League. The Belarusians came into the game knowing that a win would be enough to see them qualify for Round 3 as the highest ranked third place finisher, something that Chile could not achieve due to their lower ranking than Azerbaijan (WR: 19), who finished third at the event in Montevideo earlier this year. However, the Chileans ensured that they ended their brilliant tournament on a high, with competition top scorer Daniela Caram getting what proved to be the decisive goal just after half time.
Earlier in the day, Austria beat Lithuania 2-1 to take fifth place with Ukraine recording the same score in their victory over Turkey to claim seventh.
In the women’s Hockey World League, a total of seven qualification places for the HWL Semi-Finals were available from the Round 2 events that took place in Montevideo (URU), New Delhi (IND) and Dublin (IRL). The reason for seven rather nine qualifiers is because both Spain and Belgium, two nations ranked between 12-19 at the time of seeking entries, are hosting Semi-Final tournaments later this year and have therefore already qualified.
The top two finishers from Montevideo, New Delhi and Dublin were all certain to qualify for the Semi-Finals, being joined by the highest ranked of the third placed finishers from those three events. Italy and Uruguay confirmed their places in the Semi-Finals with a top two finish at the event in Montevideo, being joined in Round 3 by New Delhi finalists India and Poland and Dublin finalists Ireland and Canada. Azerbaijan (WR: 19) are the seventh and final team to qualify from Round 2 to Round 3 due to being higher ranked than fellow third place finishers Chile (WR: 20 – 3rd in Dublin) and Malaysia (WR: 21 – 3rd in New Delhi).
To learn more about how the teams progress through the competition in the hope of reaching the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, click here.
You can catch up on all of the action from the tournament in Dublin by visiting the official tournament microsite.
UDG Healthcare PLC Hockey World League Round 2 – Women – Dublin, Ireland
1: Ireland – Qualified for Semi-Finals of Hockey World League
2: Canada – Qualified for Semi-Finals of Hockey World League
Player of the Tournament: Megan Frazer (IRL)
Top Scorer: Daniela Caram (CHI) – 9 goals
Young Player of the Tournament: Hannah Haughn (CAN)
Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Kaitlyn Williams (CAN)
(Photo: FIH / Adrian Boehm)