Monday, May 20, 2024

Underdogs Ireland show spirit in Women’s Hockey World Cup silver

Ireland midfielder Nicci Daly is a motor racing data engineer and knows all about speed on four wheels.

Yet even she was forced to acknowledge the incredible movement and pace of the Dutch team as they raced to a 6-0 victory, accumulated their eighth World Cup title and kept up their unbeaten run since the Rio Olympics.

“They move so well off the ball and it’s their movement off the ball that is hard to keep up with as they know where they are and where to play the ball,” she said, with a silver medal round her neck after Ireland produced one of the greatest moments in hockey – and sport – to reach Sunday’s final.

“They don’t hold onto it for very long and trying to keep an eye on where they are all running to was hard.”

Daly will now go back to the day job in the US with Juncos Racing Team as a data engineer. But not before she attempts another sporting upset when she competes this month in a racing day in aid of the Irish Cancer Society as part of an-all female team “against the lads”.

It will take some time for the enormity of the Green Army’s run in London to sink in.

Captain Katie Mullan had said on the eve of their Dutch clash that her team would ‘grab the bull by the horns’.

It wasn’t to be but but after dealing with almost an hour of relentless Dutch attacking, the smiles returned as they were cheered and applauded by a 10,000 sell out.

All 11 players on the pitch fell to their knees at the hooter. It was Mullan who stirred first and went over to congratulat her team. This was not a day for tears. It was a day for celebration.

And more incredible stories. When Megan Frazer, who had grown into the tournament after 20 months out injured, was ruled out with a hamstring, Ireland were forced into calling up Emily Beatty.

At the end of a Spanish holiday, she had her bag packed full of green colours and was set to join the crowd on Sunday. But Irish management scuppered that idea. She was now Frazer’s replacement.

After a bright opening, it was all Dutch. Lidewij Welten scored her fifth goal of the tournament and Holland’s 30th of the World Cup. There were six different Dutch scorers in all. Their ability to find space in a cluttered circle the difference across the tournament. A visionary team.

Four goals in six minutes either side of the break did for the Irish, most of whom had taken extra holiday to train together for the last six weeks.

But the last fortnight has been storyline after storyline, a run based on strong work ethic and a squad billed as ‘best friends’ by whichever member of the Green Army you spoke to.

The fun-loving Ayeisha McFerran, the goalkeeper of the tournment, has led a strong defensive unit which had been key to outwitting higher-ranked opponents.

Before the final, the 22-year-old US college student had only shipped three goals, coupled with her two epic shoot-out wins.

“I watched her as an 18-year-old and you could tell she had this steel about her, the athleticism,” said coach Graham Shaw.

Four years on, she took away memories to last a lifetime. Yet the journey is only beginning for the Irish.

Earlier, part-timers Spain, beaten by Ireland in the semi-final on Saturday, won a first ever bronze medal courtesy of a fine 3-1 victory over Australia.

This was the underdogs’ tournament, topped with an outstanding performance by hockey’s dominant force. Ireland now belong among the elite and a top 10 place in the FIH rankings.

The Hockey Paper’s World Cup coverage is supported by St. Bert’s Clothing – SUMMER SALE

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