Ireland have booked their place in the final of the Hockey World Cup after beating Spain in sudden death of the penalty-shootout at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre Stadium. After Gillian Pinder tucked home the winning penalty, the pocket of Irish fans in the stadium were sent into delirium as they celebrated another historic victory with their team.
In a story that has gripped the nation over the last fortnight, thousands of Irish fans frantically made efforts to get their hands on last-minute tickets. Those who managed to source them, certainly weren’t left disappointed as the Green Army put on a tremendous performance, digging deep and leaving it all out on the field.
Renowned for their fast starts in this tournament, Ireland again shot out of the blocks in the first-quarter. It was Anna O’Flanagan who opened the scoring as she did against India on Thursday. An expertly-worked penalty corner saw Shirley McCay hook a shot from the top of the centre circle before O’Flanagan expertly applied the clinical finishing touch.
@irishhockey Brilliant #FIHGoal at the @Vitality_UK #HWC2018 in London! 👏
IRL v ESP @irishhockey
Watch here 📺 https://t.co/Ng8PUTqYpA pic.twitter.com/nZzOsjaoI6
— International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) August 4, 2018
Ireland enjoyed the better of the first-quarter and created another good opportunity for Ali Meeke, who forced a good save out of Spain’s goalkeeper Maria Ruiz.
On a gruelling day in 29 degrees heat, coach Graham Shaw was evidently aware of the impact this might have on his side’s energy levels as he continuously rotated his midfield and forwards.
After a first-quarter of domination, Spain grew into the game retaining more possession. They began to stretch the field to try and pull the Irish defence out of position. Ireland held firm however as Shirley McCay who has been a colossus at the back for Ireland all tournament once again proved difficult to get by.
Eventually, the pressure told and in the third-quarter Spain equalised. After a high-press saw the Spanish pinch the ball from Ireland in their own half, the ball was fired into Alicia Magaz who brilliantly controlled the ball and in one movement fired past Ayeisha McFerran in the Irish goal.
Ireland had to dig deep and they showed remarkable tenacity and character to stay in the game. With Spain piling on the pressure and dominating possession, Ireland had to fight for every ball and their circle defending was world-class. For all Spain’s pressure however, they were restricted to half-chances thanks to resolute defending from the whole Irish team.
With tiring legs and tiring minds, Ireland had the best opportunities to score in the final-quarter. Katie Mullan who epitomized Ireland’s never-say-die attitude and forced a penalty corner as she drove through the Spanish circle. Ireland were denied by a fine save from Spain’s goalkeeper Maria Ruiz as the game edged towards another penalty-shootout.
Gillian Pinder stepped up for Ireland to take the first penalty. Maria Ruiz made an initial save with her stick but Pinder was able to capitalise on the rebound and tucked it home to make it 1-0 to the Green Army.
Ayeisha McFerran who has the hero against India, once again showed why she is the best in the world at saving penalties. Staying incredible composed and calm, McFerran dominated the exchange with the Spanish penalty-taker and forced her to shoot-wide leaving the score 1-0 to Ireland.
After a retake, Anna O’Flannagan shot wide before Ayeisha McFerran in the Irish goal made another outstanding save to keep the score at 1-0. Roisin Upton was next for Ireland but unfortunately wasn’t able to convert her penalty and Spain’s captain fired passed McFerran in the Irish goal to level the scores.
Ali Meeke, who brilliantly converted her penalty against India failed to convert this time and the pressure was on McFerran. Producing one of her best saves of the tournament, she got down low to her right to keep out Spain before the time-limit expired.
Chloe Watkins then converted for Ireland before Spain made it 2-2 with a truly sensational dink which the Irish goalkeeper could do little about.
The shoot-out went into sudden death and the order of the penalties changed. Spain went first and once again the formidable Ayeisha McFerran was on hand to keep the ball out of the net. Up stepped Gillian Pinder with the chance to send Ireland through to the World Cup Final and she duly delivered.
IRELAND ARE INTO THE #HWC2018 WORLD CUP FINAL!!!!!!! #RTEsport #GreenMachine pic.twitter.com/Iwiaw86kqH
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) August 4, 2018
This is the first time ANY Irish team in ANY sport has made it to the final of a World Cup and it is truly a testament to the squad. A team ranked 16th in the world, and seeded second last as they qualified for the World Cup in 2002 – this is one of the greatest moments in Irish sporting history.
International women’s hockey is not renowned for its shock results as the gaps between the top nations and the rest are usually so significant. This is largely down funding, which enables the world’s best to train and compete full-time. Irish hockey don’t have this liberty and have to fit training and matches around their own college and work. They’ve even had to fund themselves to play at this World Cup. This is testament to the character of the team.
This Irish Women’s Hockey team are incredible ambassadors for this country and women in sport. Perhaps this is the biggest moment in Irish sporting history to date. The World Cup final awaits.