Women’s EuroHockey Championships
Pool C: Ireland 1 (D Duke) England 5 (S Evans 2, A Toman, L Owsley, J Hunter)
Ireland’s World Cup qualification bid looks set to come down to October’s final qualifier after they could not build on a strong start against England in the EuroHockey Championships’ Pool C.
Deirdre Duke’s outstanding early goal had them dreaming of a first win over England since 1987 – and a first in several Euro meetings – but three second quarter goals put paid to those hopes.
As such, barring an unlikely turnaround in fortunes – requiring a heavy England loss to Scotland and a big Irish win over Italy – Ireland will now contest an eight-team qualifier in October for a ticket to next summer’s World Cup.
“We started really well, building really good possession and going for it,” was the assessment of Lizzie Holden, playing in her 200th cap.
Brilliant goal from Ireland! O’Flanagan’s cross after a quick counter is expertly deflected home by Duke #EHC20201
— EuroHockey (@eurohockeyorg) June 11, 2021
“The wheels came off in the second quarter and they gathered momentum. That was the difference and there are just such fine margins in these Europeans. It spiralled out of control but we still put in a really good shift and am proud of the girls’ work-rate.”
Coach Sean Dancer concurred, adding: “Really disappointing; there was a lot on the line today and that obviously adds a lot of pain to the whole thing.
“We started the game well first quarter and I was really happy with how the game was going. We just couldn’t keep it going.
“The key thing about that first quarter is we backed ourselves. We just didn’t do that second quarter, missed a couple of opportunities from our attacking penalty corners and let a few in.”
Underdogs going into the tie, the task was made trickier when midfielder Chloe Watkins was ruled out due to a quad injury. It meant a debut for Ards’ striker Zara Malseed but meant a rejig in formation for Dancer’s side.
The Irish survived a tricky opening with super first-up defence to limit any damage and soon, they started to make inroads at the far end.
The approach was more direct with Naomi Carroll and Katie Mullan finding space to drive on and the opening goal came in the 13th minute. It was a glorious piece of work, created 70 metres out from goal as Anna O’Flanagan chipped a Carroll pass beyond her marker to unlock space.
A quick interchange with Nicci Daly was followed by O’Flanagan’s perfect cross that Deirdre Duke dove onto.
But the game turned England’s way with three goals in a nine minute spell in the second quarter. Anna Toman picked a brilliant line to clatter the backboard from England’s second penalty corner.
Danger-woman Lily Owsley’s baseline run finished with an inviting pass to the back post that Sarah Evans gobbled up to swap the lead. And Evans was on hand to volley in the third just before half-time from Ellie Rayer’s pass, leaving Ireland with a mountain to climb.
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) June 11, 2021
And that became steeper in the 42nd minute when Giselle Ansley’s corner shot took a heavy defensive touch to lift out of reach of Ayeisha McFerran and into the goal with Owsley credited as getting the final touch.
Jo Hunter then completed the result with 70 seconds remaining, tipping over the line after another strong corner sweep shot from Toman.
Ireland will conclude this campaign on Saturday at 3.30pm (Irish time, RTE Player and BT Sport) against Italy, a last competitive game for the side before Olympic selection.
“The reality is it is still a must win game and we have to approach it that way,” Dancer added.
Ireland: A McFerran, R Upton, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, N Carroll, H McLoughlin, L Holden, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan
Subs: Z Malseed, M Carey, M Frazer, N Daly, H Matthews, D Duke, L Murphy
England: M Hinch, L Unsworth, S Evans, A Toman, S Townsend, E Rayer, G Ansley, L Owsley, G Balsdon, I Petter
Subs: E Burge, E Sanders, L Neal, J Hunter, C de Ledesma, F Crackles, S Heesh
Umpires: I Amorosini (ITA), S Wilson (SCO)