How significant will this 2-1 win be for Ireland women? With a European Championships and Olympic Games to come this summer, in any other sport the microscope would be out on these two sides with this SoftCo series played out in front of the TV cameras.
Yet these three matches have uncapped status, while there are nearly 50 players across the two squads. And without the luxury of the cameras, we would have been none the wiser. But the narrative come the hooter on Sunday in Belfast suggested that Ireland continue to be no push overs on the world stage, while GB showed glimpses of their Olympic title credentials in a match they perhaps should have won.
As it was, a fine solo effort from Chloe Watkins and a late penalty stroke from Roisin Upton reversed the result from Saturday after Laura Unsworth had given the hosts the lead before half-time. The ‘friendly’ series now hinges on Tuesday afternoon’s final game.
“We’ve never beaten GB before and they’re Olympic gold medallists so it is pretty special,” said Katie Mullan, the Ireland captain. “The character of the girls in the second half was second to none and I am so proud of our performance.
“At international level, it is fine margins and we fought the tough fight to stay in it in the first half. We came out guns blazing in the second half and nothing was going to stop us.”
Mark Hager’s side had the better possession in the opening 30 minutes, Shona McCallin looked in fine fettle and GB looked a threat with their direct running at key times.
We saw a piercing run from Lily Owsley from half-way and even when Ireland broke upfield, there was Maddie Hinch with a glove save. The visitor’s goal was incisive. Started by captain Hollie Pearne-Webb at the back, she picked out McCallin to Sarah Evans, whose slap into the D was finished on the reverse deflection by Unsworth.
Then came Ireland’s rally, the Green Army equalising in the third quarter when Watkins’ strong run into the circle was finished with a switch on to the reverse.
The game took on a disjointed feel, Ireland were even down to nine at one point, while McCallin deflected inches wide from close range.
Still Ireland created chances, another direct run from Anna O’Flanagan yielding a stroke after she went down between a stretched Leah Wilkinson and Lizzie Neal. Upton’s spot shot from the resulting stroke with six minutes remaining found the net, although Hinch did connect with a glove at waist height.
Ireland were all smiles at the end; the Olympic champions had been beaten on Irish soil. Yet the real competition will start when the squads have been whittled down to 16. Perhaps when these sides meet on July 31 in their final Olympic pool match.