Ireland women turned disappointment to delight as they held out for a 2-1 victory against Italy in their second pool match in the Women’s FIH Hockey Nations Cup in Valencia this morning. Having suffered defeat to Spain in their opening match, a blistering third quarter of sustained pressure paid dividends for Sean Dancer’s charges today with goals from Naomi Carroll and Katie Mullan putting the girls in green two goals to the good after a cagey first half.
Ireland had much of the play in the opening stages but the lack of goalscoring opportunities was evident as Italy seemed happy to defend and feed off scraps when turning over in the press. After the half-time break, though, Ireland’s speed and fitness came to the fore and Roisin Upton, who won her 100th cap today, was particularly effective when coming out of defence.
Indeed, the link between Upton and player of the match Katie Mullan was twice the creative element Ireland required; first in the 35th minute when Upton beat a player and popped a pass to Mullan who posted up to the top of the circle. Mullan then turned and hit to the back post off her right foot where Naomi Carroll was perfectly positioned to tap in through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Ireland seemed to play with renewed energy after the opening goal and were rewarded for their sustained pressure when Upton again linked up with Mullan, this time from a long pass but again with Mullan making a run back to receive. She juggled between two defenders and showed great strength to hold them off as she lifted over the ‘keeper for a finish she won’t soon forget.
It was a strong Ireland performance that was not dulled by an attacking finish from the Italians, who pushed for a result in the last quarter and scored a consolation goal in the final minute. They were awarded a penalty corner, which Ireland reviewed, but it stood, and the Italian’s executed a well-drilled corner deflection to make it a one-goal game. It was too little, too late, however, and few would argue it was a deserved Ireland victory in the end.
There were too many excellent performers to name them all, but coach Sean Dancer had high praise for Upton on her 100th appearance. “Roisin is one of our key players and I’m so pleased for her. What a wonderful milestone and I hope she has a lot more. Katie Mullan was a really strong performer in the centre of the field and she held onto the ball well and controlled things, but the whole team did their job and that’s probably the key thing, everybody is doing their role,” he said.
He was particularly happy with the way that Ireland took their chances. “We scored two field goals today which is something we have worked hard at. The game was very close. The first half was about trying to control, taking away a few of their strengths and their skills and we did that very well in the first half. That set us up for the second half,” he said. “You’re always happy when you win, that’s what our job is about, high performance is all about getting results. The important thing for us is that it keeps us moving forward in the tournament. We’re now on three points and it gives us a good opportunity against Korea to get a result and then into the semi-finals,” he added.
Captain and player of the match Katie Mullan was, understandably, proud of her team. “It’s such a good team performance from us,” she declared. “We had such great control for the majority of the game. We dominated, we were clinical, and huge credit to the girls – we had a tough game yesterday and we came away and learned a few really valuable lessons last night, and I think you’ve seen them put into practice today.”
Upton was at the centre of a lot of what Ireland did well today, but she says the team improved on a few things, and that was what made the difference today. “We really wanted to bounce back after yesterday. We thought we performed well, we just needed to get a good result today to set us up for a final game against Korea. We didn’t make too many changes, we just talked about how we could do things a little bit better.”
The defender spoke about her own impact on the game. “My own role today was, basically, myself and the other centre back just looking to manipulate the centre forward and see if we could create an overload and I had the opportunity to do that sometimes from the middle, and then we executed well up front,” she added.
Goalscorer Naomi Carroll was all smiles after her team’s win. “I think we created a lot of opportunities in the first half and we were disappointed not to put them away, so we were delighted to take our first one in the second half and then to keep stepping up and keep pushing,” she said, but Carroll knows the job is not yet done. “We know Korea are a very fast team, they’ve very quick hands, and we know that this is going to be a very tough game on Thursday so we’re going to take tomorrow, regroup and take a look at the video today and get going again. Really excited for our third match.”
Ireland play Korea in their final group game on Wednesday at 9.45 am. A win would secure them a semi-final spot on Friday which would see them play either first or second in Pool B, depending on the results of the other group matches.