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Hockey: Olympic dream ends in tears as Gierts hat-trick proves knockout blow

The Irish women followed the men out the exit door on the trail to the Olympics as they lost to hosts Belgium in Antwerp yesterday.

Seven days on from the defeat of their male counterparts at UCD, the green girls fell to a heavy defeat against the host nation.

This time there was no last-minute drama to compare with the Korean game on home turf a week before, as hopes of an appearance at the London Games faded early.

It was all but over by half-time as the Belgian Panthers had already pounced three times through hat-trick heroine Sofie Gierts.

Audrey O'Flanagan pulled one back at a corner after the break, but any hopes raised of a late charge were promptly extinguished when Belgium struck again through Erica Coppey.

At the outset, both sides appeared to be fazed by the exuberance of the crammed crowd at the Beershcot club complex in a tentative opening spell.

Ireland had slightly the better of the initial exchanges, though Charlotte de Bos went close to finding the net on three minutes with a shot that flew just inches past the wrong side of Emma Gray's left-hand post.

Emma Smyth was a thorn in Belgium's right side but the third Emma -- Clarke -- failed to make a connection when she dived full length to meet the Railway Union player's best cross.

Belgian nerves were soon settled by veteran Gierts, at 32 the oldest player on the pitch.

She pulled a mishit cross out of the air and shelled the ball past Gray with impressive power. Umpire Michelle Joubert then deemed Nikki Symmons' attempted tackle a penalty in what was a very harsh call.

Gierts trotted up to the spot and fired into the top left corner and she went on to deceive Gray once more before the break, this time at a penalty corner move.

Ireland's joyful win over tournament favourites Spain was founded on a set-piece routine that yielded a couple of goals for O'Flanagan.

This time it was penalty corner number seven before the Cork native found the mark as the Irish routine was repeatedly unsettled by the brave defensive running of Gaelle Valcke.

When the score finally arrived on 57 minutes it was not one of her best efforts, somehow finding a way through a ruck of players and past 'keeper Nadine Khouzam. The Belgians responded within seconds, with Coppey volleying home.

Nikki Evans had one attempt saved in the closing stages, but for most of the closing 12 minutes the home crowd were happy to cheer their women as they merrily counted down the clock in the Irish half of the pitch.

Another Sunday. Another team in red. Another heartbreaking result for the Irish. Coach Gene Muller had no cribs about the outcome of the most important match played by his team during his six years in charge.

"We were beaten by the better team," the South African said candidly. "We were leaking goals and when you're leaking goals, you are leaking energy."

Belgium -- N Khouzam, A Raes, L Danhaive, E Coppey, G Valcke, L Cavanaille, C de Vos, B Nelen, J Boon, S Gierts, S de Groof. Subs: A Gerniers, L van Lindt, E Sinia, A-S van Regemortel, H Delmee.

Ireland -- E Gray, N Symmons, S McCarthy, C Sargent, E Smyth, L Colvin, E Clarke, L Jacob, A Speers, A Connery, A O'Flynn. Subs: M Harvey, S McCay, N Daly, N Evans, M Crowley.

Umpires: M Joubert (RSA), A Hassick (USA).

Irish Independent