This was some day for Welsh hockey. No sooner had Wales women returned to their team hotel in Pisa – they are now one match away from their first World Cup finals since 1983 – than the men’s side confirmed a coveted ticket to their first after a thrilling shoot-out win over Ireland.
Sophia Gardens was in boisterous mood as Wales came back from a goal down with a superb finish by Joe Naughalty to take the game to the 23m line. Ireland then missed four of their efforts as conversions by Rupert Shipperley and Jack Pritchard proved enough for the Welsh.
Defeat was galling for the crestfallen Irish, who were denied an Olympic berth by the same fate against Canada, as Wales reached their first ever men’s World Cup.
“That was an unbelievably tight game, the boys didn’t make it easy but they were awesome,” admitted their coach Danny Newcombe. “We’ve made history for Wales.”
Meanwhile, some 1,500kms away, Wales women had, on Thursday, ousted hosts Italy and then higher-ranked Scotland to set up a final with Ireland on Sunday. With only one ticket available for the women, it’s now winner takes all in Pisa.
And after managing to watch the denouement in Cardiff, the Welsh women’s squad will head into the final qualification match with extra motivation for a nation continuing to “reach above our resources” once more.
That was the rallying call from Wales coach Kevin Johnson on Saturday night after watching Rose Thomas produce a fine save in the shoot-out with an outstretched stick when all seemed lost.
“She works really hard at the shoot-outs,” said Johnson. “That save she just changed her body position and it went past the post.”
Johnson said his side will now “give it everything” as they aim to join the men’s side in what signal a breakthrough moment for Welsh hockey.
“We have ups and downs [as a nation] and we enjoy the moments when it happens,” he added.
“We will give it everything. In terms of expectiatikn there will be pressure on Ireland and we have confidence to score another upset.”
With the men’s game against the Irish going the full distance, it allowed the Welsh women to catch the final salvos at the team hotel in Pisa.
“We are so pleased for them and to do it in front of ahome crowd too,” added Johnson. “We have been sharing mesages from staff and playes and we have ben helping to push each other on and that is the spirit we have and we are all equal.
“We are there to push each other and this has given us all a lift to continue to reach above our resources.”
Meanwhile, Ireland men will close out the tournament with a third place playoff against Austria.
“Tomorrow’s a game where we will have a green shirt on and we want to win but it doesn’t mean a whole lot other than a few world ranking points,” coach Mark Tumilty said. “We need to regroup and go again to finish the tournament on a high but it’s a difficult day.”
Scotland women face Belarus in Pisa in the race to third and crucial ranking points.
World Cup qualification finals (UK time)
Women, Pisa: Ireland v Wales, 3pm
Men, Cardiff: France v Wales 5pm