Ireland captain Katie Mullan hailed “a huge legacy moment” for the Green Army after securing the one remaining women’s World Cup ticket on offer and successive passages to the sport’s showpiece event.
“We knew it would be a defining moment,” said Mullan. “It wasn’t pretty but it shows the character within our group to come away from the game with a win from such a tough battle. Credit to Wales, they put on a big performance and took us right to the end.”
“This is a huge moment for the legacy of this team, continuing to build on the success we have already had.”
The Green Army had hit the front early on courtesy of O’Flanagan through a fine team move featuring Lena Tice and Sarah Torrans. Wales levelled, though, before the end of the first quarter through Isabelle Howell from a well-worked penalty corner.
That set up an incredibly tense middle phase with both side enjoying spells in control. But the game opening up in the closing quarter when Wales were reduced to nine players with Phoebe Richards and Emily Rowlands going to the sin-bin.
Zara Malseed intercepted wide on the left and utilised the extra space to bounce an inviting pass to O’Flanagan who smashed home on the volley.
Mullan added: “Anna showed today why she is a world class forward, the best forward to come through Irish women’s hockey. She fronted up today when the pressure was on.
“She deserves this moment of elation but I have to give such a special mention to the new girls who have come in, the energy and excitement they have brought. They fronted up in key moments and we couldn’t have done it without them and the future is very bright for this team.”
Earlier, Scotland held on to beat Belarus to third place thanks to a Fiona Burnet double in a 2-1 win.
Coach Chris Duncan said: “We were all deflated after losing out on a place in the World Cup, it took a big emotional toll on the players, but they bounced back magnificently to beat Belarus in our final match. They are a very unorthodox team and hard to play against, but we stuck to our task well and came away with a hard-fought win.”