Ireland women were by no means disgraced on Tuesday night as a 5-0 defeat overshadowed a spirited performance which ultimately saw the Green Army fall short of a first ever EuroHockey semi-finals. It finished a day where there were a quartet of five zero scorelines, underlining the ever-present Pro League against second tier teams who can barely summon Test match ranking points.
Sean Dancer’s side needed to win by two clear goals to deny England a final four berth and set up a showdown with world No 1 Holland. It proved a a continental hurdle too far.
But a ruthless German side, aiming to win the title for the first time in a decade, played posessive, controlled, give and go hockey at pace. Two first-half goals consigned Ireland to a play-off for fifth – their best finish at a EuroHockey – but the final scoreline flattered Germany.
That Ireland conceded three times in as many minutes in the final quarter was down to Sean Dancer rolling the dice when he took off Lizzie Murphy with 20 minutes left to play and needing four to win.
“I was hoping that we weren’t at 2-0 down that early in the game before we considered taking off the ‘keeper,” said Dancer. “Germany are a very good team and we certainly thought we were in the game before the score got away from us in the end.
Germany employed a high press and were largely camped deep in Irish territory for the opening nine minutes. They were rewarded for their patience with a first penalty corner and the impressive Sonja Zimmerman slung past Ayeisha McFerran into the right corner.
Two minutes later, the Green Machine had their first sight of goal. Injected to Hannah McLoughlin, the UCD midfielder’s strike into the turf deflected off a German defender and onto the post. She thought she had scored, before the ball came back into play and danger was averted.
Germany kept up the pressure in the second quarter with another brace of corners, but their slick routines were rebuffed by McFerran.
Midway through the quarter, Pauline Heinz was fed a waist high ball and she converted brilliantly with a forehand strike low to McFerran’s right.
At the other end, Dancer replaced Murphy, who had only come on for McFerran at half-time, and the extra player initially handed Ireland their best possession passage of the match.
However, Nike Lorenz profited with two PC drag flicks high into the net and Jette Fleschutz tapped into an open net before Murphy came back into goal.
Niamh Carey said: “It was a gamble to take off the ‘keeper and unfortunately it didn’t come off. We said in the huddle at the end that we need to take positives out of this game and the next two games are so important for us.”
Finishing fifth will still be a notable achievement given that five of the world’s top seven are competing in Monchengladbach.
The truth of the matter is that Ireland have only played one proper test match this year. The gulf in class has been evident here for those teams who have played consistently in the FIH Pro League.
Elsewhere on final pool day…
Charlotte Englebert shone in a sparkling Belgian win over Spain to propel them into the semi-finals of the women’s EuroHockey Championships.
The 5-0 success earned them second spot in the group with Spain set to play in Pool C.
The Netherlands got what they needed with something to spare to land a place in the women’s semi-finals in Mönchengladbach with a 5-0 success against Italy.