Black sticks late strike downs Ireland

Ireland suffered Olympic heartbreak at the hands of New Zealand in Singapore this morning, as the Black Sticks grabbed a last-gasp strike to claim a 3-2 victory.

Coach Dave Passmore claimed afterwards he was “truly gutted” for the side, while manager Una McCarthy praised the best performance she had ever seen in age-grade games.

When storms again caused havoc – this time, the hit-off was delayed – New Zealand started better and forced a couple of saves from Jenna Holmes between the sticks for Ireland, before Rhiannon Dennison gave them a seventh-minute lead when rattling home a penalty corner.

But Ireland fought back with aplomb – as they had done in the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands 24 hours earlier – as Katie Mullan plundered a field goal equaliser on 22 minutes, smashing a thunderbolt home via the keeper’s pads.

A stalemate ensued with the majority of the game played out between the 25s thereafter, though Ireland proved far more adept at carving out chances; one in particular when a shot was taken while a number of players awaited a ball to back post was particularly galling.

A second Dennison goal, this time via a deflection, set up a grandstand finish with seven minutes to go; the girls in green were level on 66 minutes as Munster’s Rebecca Barry cracked home from the top of the circle following a switched corner move.

Ireland made all the right moves in the closing minutes and dominated possession, only for a Kiwi break to yield a corner which Eley Miller converted – following multiple saves from Holmes – with just 60 seconds to go.

Passmore said afterwards: “For such a young team to play so well against a physically strong Kiwi team was pleasing, but it is hard to stomach the fact we lost after playing so well for such long periods. I am truly gutted for the girls, who deserved more.”

McCarthy was equally disappointed: “This is the best performance I have ever seen in years and years of junior Irish matches. The girls were magnificent.”

Elsewhere, the Netherlands overwhelmed South Africa 13-0 to move top of the table. They, New Zealand and Argentina – who are Ireland’s next opponents on Thursday (11am Irish time) have six points from two games and look well set to contest the medal games, with Ireland, Korea and South Africa yet to pick up a point, fighting for fourth and a place in the bronze medal match.

Standings: 1. Netherlands 6pts (+15) 2. Argentina 6pts (+10) 3. New Zealand 6pts (+2) 4. Ireland 0pts (-3) 5. Korea 0pts (-4) 6. South Africa 0pts (-20)

*Words thanks to Alan Good, photos from FIH/SYOGOC

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