Ireland failed at the final hurdle when they lost 3-1 to Korea in Sunday’s’s FIH Hockey series final at a packed and sun drenched Havelock Park.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom despite a largely disappointing performance against the world number 11 nation. On Saturday, Ireland had guaranteed themselves the required top-two finish in the tournament to progress to the final stage of qualifying for Tokyo with a 4-0 semi-final win over the Czech Republic.
The World Cup silver medallists will now go into a two-legged play-off with a lower ranked nation, hopefully with home advantage, with the winner booking their tickets to Japan. The line-up and host teams for the qualifiers will be determined based on the updated world rankings which will be confirmed following the five continental championships.
Ireland initially face Germany, England and Belarus at the European Championship in Antwerp in August when they will have a difficult task if they are to reach the semi-finals.
East Grinstead and former Ards utility player Chloe Brown was drafted into the squad to replace fellow Ulster woman Megan Frazer, who was ruled out of the tournament after aggravating a knee injury.
In Sunday’s game, Brown was at the centre of controversy when she allegedly was guilty of obstruction moments before Rosin Upton found the net at a penalty corner. The goal, with the game scoreless in the 21st minute wasn’t allowed to stand and the outcome might have been different had it been allowed.
But Ireland can have no complaints at the result as the Koreans deserved their victory after showing a more clinical touch in front of goal. Team captain Katie Mullan couldn’t hide her disappointment after the game although Ireland’s dream of a first-ever appearance at an Olympic Games is still alive.
The Coleraine woman said: “Unfortunately, we were unable to put the cherry on the cake and we can take away a lot of lessons from the game but the initial target was to finish in the top-two and we did that.”
“But we are obviously gutted not to have won the final which would have given us more world ranking points and those are important. We had our chances and simply didn’t take them whereas Korea took theirs.”
“But we now have the Europeans to look forward to and we won’t just be going to Antwerp to make up the numbers. The timing of that tournament will provide us with a valuable build up ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in October or November.”
“It’s possible we will meet Korea again in those and I’d like to think we will take the lessons learned forward, whoever we face.”
Belfast Harlequins midfielder Lizzie Colvin, one of seven Ulster women in the squad, also had mixed emotions after the game.
She added: “It’s bitter sweet I suppose and yes, the Olympic dream is still alive, but it hurts to have lost the final. Rankings mean very little and there isn’t much between teams at this level – small margins.”
“But we have plenty to work on between now and the qualifiers and we’ll take some time off and then it will be back to the drawing board.”
Interim head coach Gareth Grundie was disappointed at the fact a Roisin Upton ‘goal’ was ruled out for an obstruction by Chloe Brown with the game scoreless in the 21st minute.
He said: “I couldn’t see anything wrong with it, to be honest and had there been video referrals at this tournament, we would certainly have used one.”
A brilliant pass by Upton in the first quarter gave Chloe Watkins a shot at the Korean goal, but goalkeeper Soo Ji Jang managed to get her foot to the ball preventing Ireland getting on the scoreboard. Yuri Lee from Korea also found a chance for herself at the opposite end of the pitch, although Ayeisha McFerran was on hand to save.
The second quarter saw a great chance for player-of-the-tournament and top scorer Anna O’Flanagan, provided by a pass from Deirdre Duke but Jang saved it well at the near post.
A penalty corner for Korea saw Hyoju An shoot for the goal but McFerran saved at full stretch. Ireland applied the pressure in the opening minutes of the second half but resilient defence by Korea kept them at bay.
The final quarter provided well taken goals from Hyunji Kim and Eunbi Cheon before Nicola Daly managed to get one over the line at the third attempt from a set-piece with under two minutes remaining. Ireland’s decision to pull their keeper to have an extra outfield player backfired as Jina Kang sent the ball into the empty net to seal the win in the dying seconds.
On Saturday, Shirley McCay, Zoe Wilson, Sarah Hawkshaw and O’Flanagan got the goals in the win over Czech Republic.
Finally, hats off to Banbridge HC, who organised a superbly run event, even though the sun didn’t always shine. The crowds turned out in force, with a capacity 1,400 spectators on most days. The Co Down club could certainly do a similarly good job if asked to host the Olympic qualifier although Dublin remains the likely venue, assuming Ireland have the benefit of home advantage later this year.
5th-6th Place Play-off: Scotland 6 France 0
3rd-4th Place Play-off: Malaysia 3 Czech Republic 0
FIH Series Final: Ireland 1 (N Daly) Korea 3
7th-8th Place Play-off: Ukraine 3 Singapore 0
Semi-finals: Ireland 4 (S McCay, Z Wilson, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan) Czech Republic 0; Korea 3 Malaysia 0