Ireland kept their cool in the final moments of their last pool match of the Women’s FIH Hockey Nations Cup in Valencia this morning to book their spot in the semi-final on Friday. Second-half goals from Sarah Hawkshaw and Katie Mullan put Ireland two goals in front, but two goals in the last five minutes for Korea gave Ireland fans nerves going into the dying minutes.
Ireland had controlled the game from the pushback, with Korea’s main threat being their counterattack. The girls in green were skilful up front, winning penalty corners with regularity. They went through their routine but with limited effectiveness, Korea defending an array of strikes, drag flicks and deflections in the seven Ireland corners won in the first half.
Korea struggled to get the ball out of defence in the second half as Ireland hunted in the press, winning plenty of ball in the attacking third. Katie Mullan led the charge up front while Michelle Carey and Sarah Torrans made good headway wide on the right of the pitch, the final pass just eluding the Irish. Defensive Irish players, too, began to press forward with Hannah McLoughlin and Ellen Curran making probing runs out of the defending line and creating problems for Korea.
It took nine penalty corners for Ireland to get on the scoreboard. Roisin Upton drag-flicked the initial shot that was saved by goalkeeper Lee; then Ellen Curran saw her shot smothered and kicked up towards Sarah Hawkshaw on the post who tracked it and batted it goalward to put Ireland in front. Sean Dancer’s charges continued to pile on the pressure in the last quarter and a mistake from Lee in goal, who had done so much up to that point to keep her team in the tie, led to her team conceding their second.
A loose ball made it through to the ‘keeper who cleared straight into the path of the oncoming player of the match, Katie Mullan. Lee looked to correct her mistake by coming at Mullan who spotted her chance, sliding the ball past the keeper on her near post.
Korea continued to look for goals, though, and they found some joy late on when they won a penalty corner with four minutes left on the clock. Their drag flick found the leg of Elena Tice on the line, which led to a penalty stroke. Hyejin Cho sent it high to the left to give her team a glimmer of hope. Korea duly went straight back down the pitch after the Ireland pass back to win another corner and this time Sujin An’s drag flick found the arm of Roisin Upton – the deflection sending it into the Ireland goal with two minutes on the clock and the scores level.
If there were nerves within the Ireland team, however, they were not evident as they expertly ran down the clock, Hannah McLoughlin drawing foul after foul and winning multiple frees to smother any chance of a third and winning goal for Korea – the game-finishing two goals apiece.
The draw puts Ireland into second place in Pool A which means they face the winners of Pool B in the second semi-final on Friday at 2.45 pm. If Ireland can win that match, they go into the final on Saturday at 2.45 pm. The winner of that match wins a spot in the 2023 FIH Pro League.
Head Coach Sean Dancer felt it was the best he’s seen this group play. “The performance overall was extremely pleasing,” he smiled. “It was actually one of the best games I’ve seen this team play – the way that we held onto the ball and controlled the game. It’s obviously very disappointing that it ended 2-2 and we certainly need to look at that last five minutes to make sure we control the game a bit better. We had more than enough opportunities in penalty corner attack to put them away but, overall, I’m really pleased.”
Ireland now looks ahead to Friday. “The opponents in the semi-final will probably be India. They’ll be a really tough opponent but it’s also a great opportunity. What was particularly pleasing today is that, while the senior players played well, the younger players really stepped up and at stages, they took their chances and they hurt Korea.”
Player of the match Katie Mullan says it is a job done, despite drawing a match they feel they should have won. “We wanted to be in the semi-final come the end of the week. We are a wee bit disappointed to concede two goals at the end and leave it at a draw because I think we dominated the game and we had the better chances,” she admits. “Korea were clinical in big moments and in penalty corners and we just need to learn from those moments going into the semi-final,” she added.