Friday 23 August 2019

Heroines who lost nothing in defeat

Women's Hockey

Chloe Watkins, Ireland during the Women’s World League Round 3, Ireland v China, in Valencia, Spain (David Aliaga / SPORTSFILE)
Chloe Watkins, Ireland during the Women’s World League Round 3, Ireland v China, in Valencia, Spain (David Aliaga / SPORTSFILE)
Ireland players, from left to right, Megan Frazer, Emma Smyth and Aine Connery following their side's defeat (David Aliaga / SPORTSFILE)
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

You won't see many gutsier Irish performances than the one given by the women's hockey team in their World League quarter-final match against China on Thursday morning.

Ranked seventh in the world, seven places above Ireland, the Chinese were silver medallists in the 2008 Olympics and have been in the top six at the last four Games. Ireland, on the other hand, have never even qualified, but a win in Valencia would have almost certainly booked a spot in next year's Games in Rio.

After falling behind to an early goal against the run of play, Ireland dominated the rest of the match, finishing with 61 per cent of the possession and a 14-4 penalty corner count.

Equalising in the third quarter through Chloe Watkins, they might have been expected to wilt in the Spanish heat against a Chinese team known for their exceptional fitness. Instead it was the Chinese who were hanging on at the end, with Ireland denied victory when a goal by Megan Frazer was disallowed. They had chances to win the penalty shoot-out but lost out despite some heroics by sub keeper Ayeisha McFerran, filling the Tim Krul/Ciaran Kelly role.

Yet few teams have lost so little caste in defeat. That they'd not only made it to the knock-out stages but topped the group after a win over a world number five USA team was remarkable enough in itself.

The absolutely sublime skill of Nicci Daly, the elusiveness and intelligence of Kate Dillon, the passing and generalship of Hannah Matthews, the towering defensive performance of Cliodhna Sargent and the all-round bravery of the team will be a long time fading from the memory.

If ever a defeat felt unjust it was this one but something about this display suggested that this team will come again.

Yesterday's loss means that for the moment they'll have to be satisfied with being a credit to their sport, their clubs and their country. They left it all on the pitch in Valencia.

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