Ireland secure place in World Cup final after dramatic penalty shoot-out triumph over Spain
Ireland 1 Spain 1 (3-2 on penalties)
This was always going to be an historic afternoon for Irish sport, but we could not dare to believe it would be as glorious as this.
As Gillian Pinder slotted home the shoot out goal that fired Ireland into the hockey World Cup final, the drama and significance of the moment was not lost on anyone here at London’s Olympic Park.
Ireland don’t reach World Cup finals. At least they didn’t until this momentous, wonderful, thrilling day in London.
For Graham Shaw and his heroic girls in green, this was a moment that deserves the kind of national adulation we normally reserve for our GAA, soccer or rugby heroes as this achievement should be hailed for what it is. One of the great moments in Irish sporting history.
When England were named as host nation for the 2018 Hockey World Cup, they would not have imagined semi-final weekend would see the vast expanses of the Olympic Park turned into a sea of Irish green.
Irish flags and green jerseys filled the stands for a sell-out occasion that felt like a home game for Graham Shaw’s Green Army, with the surge of interest in their exploits in London reaching a crescendo as they played the most significant game in the history of our national team.
An Irish team ranked 16th in the world were not expected to get anywhere near the semi-finals of this high quality tournament, but their heroics in the semi-final shoot-out win against India on Wednesday was backed up by another fast start against a Spain side favoured by most observers to come out on top.
In the first key moment of this game, Ireland were awarded a penalty corner and made full use of the chance, with Anna O’Flanagan seizing the moment to fire Ireland into an early lead.
U2’s Beautiful Day echoed around this sun baked area to greet a golden moment for Irish hockey and with their Shaw’s side renowned for their rock solid defence, a place in the World Cup final appeared to edge ever closer.
Ireland had chances to extend their lead in an energised first half performance, with a second penalty corner coming to nothing as Ireland controlled the tie as the first quarter came to a close.
Yet with temperatures edging into the 30s and barely a breath of wind cooling the burning Irish skin, a Spain side more accustomed to such stifling conditions got a grip of the tie in the second quarter as Ireland’s girls struggled maintain their momentum.
Ice towels were being handed out to the Irish girls on the sidelines as they struggling to keep their body temperatures under control, with coach Shaw looking increasingly agitated on the sidelines as his side struggled to offer an attacking threat.
Spain sensed their opponents were weakening and with Carlota Petchame and Carola Salvatella catching the eye as Spain pieced together some flowing moves, it was no surprise when they drew level through a neat finish from Alicia Magaz.
All the optimism of that thrilling opening quarter from Ireland was draining away, with the Irish-dominated crowd sensing the girls needed a lift as they raised their volume levels in a tense final quarter where the prize at stake clearly inhibited the ambitions of both teams.
A late flurry of Ireland pressure so nearly produced a dramatic winner as they were handed a late minute penalty corner on review, but as was the case with the quarter-final against India, this tie would be decided on a shoot-out.
The drama continued to flow as chances penalties came and went for both sides, with a lobbed finish from Olivia Georgina keeping Spain in it when she simply had to score.
It went to sudden death and after inspirational Irish keeper McFerran kept out Olvia’s effort, Gillian Pinder had to hold her nerve to fire the historic goal to seal a place in the final.
She did it, to spark wild scenes of celebration around the Olympic Park.
What a moment for Irish sport and if we weren’t hockey fans before today, we certainly are now.