Saturday 20 October 2018

'She is the goalkeeper of the tournament so far' - Irish dreaming of World Cup medals after McFerran's shoot-out heroics

Ireland 0 India 0 (Ireland win 3-1 on penalties)

Nicola Evans, Yvonne O’Byrne, Zoe Wilson, Kathryn Mullan and Hannah Matthews celebrate after Ireland’s victory over India in the Women’s Hockey World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Nicola Evans, Yvonne O’Byrne, Zoe Wilson, Kathryn Mullan and Hannah Matthews celebrate after Ireland’s victory over India in the Women’s Hockey World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

David Medcalf

Shoot-out queens Ireland booked a World Cup semi-final date with Spain in London tomorrow as a jittery display over the hour of hockey paved the way for a nerveless display in the penalty shoot-out.

The dream of medals for one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament remains alive after a scoreless draw was decided 3-1 in their favour by the tie-breaker.

Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran wrote herself an indelible place in Irish hockey history as she was beaten just once in the 'one-versus-one' battle.

Roisin Upton, Ali Meeke and Chloe Watkins also earned their slice of fame by beating Indian net-minder Savita, each running in from 25 yards and finding the target within the eight seconds allowed.

Breathless

"Ayeisha is a rock," said breathless veteran Shirley McCay at pitchside afterwards.

Chloe Watkins turns away from goalkeeper Savita of India and scores their third goal. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Chloe Watkins turns away from goalkeeper Savita of India and scores their third goal. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

"She is the goalkeeper of the tournament by far. When it went to one-v-ones, there was only going to be one winner."

That winner was Graham Shaw's team, despite the fact that they did not have a decent shot to trouble Savita during the match.

The Indians didn't do a whole lot better either on an evening at Lee Valley when defences were on top against frantic, formless attacking on the Olympic pitch.

McFerran had just one save of note to make during this nerve-racked spectacle, going down to present an impenetrable barrier as Rani battered a shot on target at the one penalty corner of the game.

Alison Meeke scores for Ireland in their shoot out. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Alison Meeke scores for Ireland in their shoot out. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Coach Shaw vowed to make an attacking start and his players did their best to deliver, though good runs from Nikki Evans and Anna O'Flanagan yielded nothing in the circle.

The pattern was soon set for an encounter which was cagey throughout as the enormity of the occasion took its toll on forward creativity.

When the same two sides met in the preliminary stages of the tournament, Ireland lost no time in scoring through O'Flanagan.

On this occasion it was well into the second quarter before O'Flanagan had the Green Army's first shot, feeding off a Katie Mullan cross, which was well smothered by Savita.

Nicola Daly celebrates at the end of the game. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Nicola Daly celebrates at the end of the game. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The best Indian opportunity before the break came shortly afterwards but McFerran was able to watch Rani's effort go wide of her left-hand post.

More of the same followed after the interval, as play was littered by Indian errors and mis-placed Irish passes, though Megan Frazer, Meeke and Watkins occasionally threatened to break out of the midfield morass.

With fewer than 10 minutes remaining, their opponents - ranked 10 in the world to Ireland's 16 - forced the solitary corner when Hannah Matthews bobbled the ball on to her own leg near goal.

But McFerran dealt with the set-piece as capably as she has coped with everything else thrown at her during this World Cup campaign, with Elena Tice on hand to tidy up and clear after the save from Rani.

Then McFerran wove her magic in the shootout to propel these Irish amazons into an orbit far beyond anything achieved by past teams from this island.

Ireland players celebrate their victory. Photo: Kate McShane/Getty Images
Ireland players celebrate their victory. Photo: Kate McShane/Getty Images

Light on her feet and decisive in the tackle, she was beaten just once, by Rheena Khokar, while Upton's precision, Meeke's cheeky nutmeg and finally Watkins' patience (she used 7.5 of her 8 seconds) secured the place in the world semi-finals.

Saturday's opponents Spain will hold no terrors for Shaw's charges, though they reached the semi-finals after taking the scalp of much-fancied Germany on Wednesday.

"We are delighted to get this far," admitted 270-cap veteran McCay as the prospect of taking a medal from a major championship moved one inspirational step closer. "We know Spain well and we will give it a go."

Giving it a go has got this bunch of underdogs a long way so far, there is no reason to believe they cannot take it one step further and step on to the podium.

Ireland - A McFerran, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, G Pinder, R Upton, C Watkins, E Colvin, H Matthews, A O'Flanagan, Z Wilson.

Subs: Y O'Byrne, M Frazer, E Tice, N Daly, D Duke, A Meeke.

India - Savita, G Kaur, D Ekka, Monika, Deepika, N Toppo, Lalremsiami, N Kaur, S Lakra, Rani, L Minz. Subs: N Goyal, Udita, V Katariya, N Pradhan, R Khokhar, N Kaur.

Umpires - I Presenqui (Argentina), C de la Fuente (Argentina).

Irish Independent

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