Friday 24 November 2017

O'Halloran puts Ireland in good shape


Ireland put together two vastly contrasting performances on the opening weekend of the FIH Champion's Challenge in Belfield but came up with the same result, beating both India and Azerbaijan 2-1 to move within a point of winning Group B.

Yesterday, Azerbaijan's rugged structure led to plenty of frees and a lack of rhythm.

But Ireland rose above, Audrey O'Flynn dragging home her side's second penalty corner. Myungsoon Mammadova -- one of a dozen naturalised Koreans -- tied the game from close range, but Julia O'Halloran got the vital intervention before the break. The ball bounced favourably from a right-wing attack and she smashed home a waist-high volley past Victoriya Shahbazova.

Ireland then spent much of the time on the back foot but Nikki Symmons showed the experience to ride out the storm while Cliodhna Sargent, among others, prevented a single shot in earnest for Emma Gray to save.

While it leaves Ireland within a point of winning the group, such an outcome could prove a false virtue. Group standing solely decides quarter-final opposition -- a factor which has drawn widespread criticism -- and it leaves top seeds Japan or a well-drilled USA as the next in line.

Saturday's success against India was one for the artists, Chloe Watkins giving a show of her potential with a string of elegant runs and a dead-eye finish to seal the win.

Symmons -- also a cricket international -- batted home a penalty corner rebound to break the deadlock before Aine Connery brilliantly created Watkins' eventual winner.

The visitors got one back late on, but too late to affect the result and Ireland now take on Spain tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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