O’Flanagan double sees Ireland finish Euros on a high

Women’s EuroHockey Championships, Pool C
Ireland 3 (A O’Flanagan 2, Z Malseed) Italy 0

Anna O’Flanagan’s double earned Ireland a Ireland a closing win to secure sixth place at the women’s EuroHockey Championships in Amsterdam, ending a rollercoaster week on a high.

Ultimately, the main targets of World Cup qualification and a first European semi-final proved out of reach with “goals scored” denying both those outcomes in the group stages.

In that context, O’Flanagan – Ireland’s record goalscorer with 83 to her name now – reflected on a mixed bag of two wins, a draw and two losses.

“This European competition, the margins are so small,” she said after the win over Italy. “You are one goal away from a semi-final and then you are playing the Olympic champions for fifth; it’s crazy.

“It’s an amazing tournament to play in but also an extremely difficult one, the most difficult you will play in. We did some good things, some not so good so it is a big learning curve.

“A few things didn’t go our way for sure. Tournament hockey is a rollercoaster and we certainly had more downs than ups.

“We need to look at the fine details, improve on some small things and if we do that we can do some damage.”

O’Flanagan struck in the second and third quarters to set up the win before Ards woman Zara Malseed netted her first international goal in just her second full cap, giving an upbeat finish to a bruising tournament.

Megan Frazer and Naomi Carroll were both rested for this one, joining Chloe Watkins in the stands with Muckross’s Sarah McAuley coming into the side for her first formal cap.

And Róisín Upton departed in the third quarter with a head injury to leave Ireland working off a shortened rotation.

With Italy adopting a catenaccio system, the first quarter was a maze of patience as the Green Army attempted to unlock a packed defence. Other than O’Flanagan’s pot-shot, it passed by relatively serenely but the tempo ratcheted up a notch in the second quarter.

Ireland ran up a quartet of penalty corners while Malseed showed her key strengths, shooting on sight early from half-chances to test Sofia Monserrat’s padding.

And the goal arrived in the 27th minute when Upton drove forward from the back. Her cross popped up dangerously off a defensive stick but O’Flanagan did not stick around to wait for a whistle, clubbing the ball baseball style into the goal.

It enticed Italy out of their shell to some extent in the third quarter, winning their first penalty corner but Ayeisha McFerran was up to the task, knocking away her Kampong club mate Chiara Tiddi’s attempted drag-flick.

The extra breathing room came in the 42nd minute when Sarah Hawkshaw used her pace to out-strip her marker on the right baseline and she laid on the perfect pass for O’Flanagan to sweep in her second of the day.

Malseed extended the lead with an expert tip-in, guiding in her first international goal from Katie Mullan’s intercept and cross. They duly closed out the tie comfortably with McFerran never looking unduly troubled.

“We’ve been disappointed so far so it was really important for us as a team to play well but also to win and score some nice goals,” O’Flanagan concluded. “So nice to finish on a high; it’s always been a big summer for us and it nice to get a bit of confidence going forward.”

Ireland: A McFerran, Z Malseed, R Upton, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, H McLoughlin, L Holden, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan
Subs: M Carey, N Daly, H Matthews, D Duke, S McAuley, L Murphy

Italy: S Montserrat, T Dalla Vittoria, I Sarnari, A Oviedo, A Moroni, S Maldonado, P De Biase, C Tiddi, S Puglisi, S Laurito, L Oviedo
Subs: E Munitis, A Ayala, F Carta, E di Mauro, C Aguirre, L Fernandez, L Caruso

Umpires: I Makar (CRO), A Bogolyubova (RUS)