Electric Ireland Champions Challenge I
Fifth/Sixth playoff: Ireland 1 (Nikki Symmons) South Africa 2 (Sulette Damons, Pietee Coetzee)
Ireland finished their Electric Ireland Champions Challenge campaign in sixth place as Pietee Coetzee, the world record goalscorer, netted a glorious 59thminute drag-flick to secure a 2-1 South African victory in today’s classification tie at Belfield.
It was a tough end to a largely positive tournament as Gene Muller’s side won three times against higher world ranked opposition and finished up one place on their pre-tournament ranking. His side fell behind in Sunday’s game to Sulette Damons well struck shot from the left side of the circle.
Nikki Symmons levelled matters with 21 minutes to go, credited with the goal after Cliodhna Sargent’s piledriver had deflected her way. Her shot was slightly off target but the covering Marsha Marescia could only redirect into her own goal.
It came during Ireland’s best period but South Africa re-asserted their authority as time went on and won the vital corner in the 54th minute from which Coetzee duly converted. Overall, though, Muller drew plenty of positives from the week.
“I’ve mixed feelings about it. Finishing sixth is disappointing but to have played in the fashion we have in this tournament, I have to take that,” he said
“You’re always chasing the performance and it was really good today. We didn’t lose many individual battles, matched them tactically and in certain areas I thought we outplayed South Africa.”
The Africans, though, started in the ascendancy with Sinead McCarthy forced to put in two diving tackles in the early phases before Damons’ pin-point strike.
The umpires had already got the home side’s backs up as Shirley McCay and Julia O’Halloran were sent tumbling a couple of times and the rub of the green was generally not going their way but they forged some decent patterns as the half progressed.
Chloe Watkins produced a moment of magic to twist by three before unleashing a reverse which Mariette Rix had to concentrate on to boot away for a long corner.
Into the second half, Emma Smyth became the game’s key player, regularly burning off chasing defenders while Lisa Jacob and Alex Speers drew a number of corners during Ireland’s third quarter purple patch. One such set-piece yielded the Symmons’ goal and the hope was they could push on from there.
But Coetzee’s flick, awarded in hotly contested circumstances, broke that rhythm. With 16 minutes left, there was still time to get level and O’Flynn’s drag was only denied by a post woman.
South Africa, though, had regrouped and gathered their composure to pin Ireland back and Shelley Russell believed she had the winner seven minutes from time.
Coetzee cracked a cross and Russell, under serious pressure, slid in for the deflection. Her connection was not totally clean but the first bounce looked set for the corner but the second skip saw the ball spin wildly and wide as the midfielder lifted an arm to celebrate.
Ireland piled forward, Speers beating Rix but not the cover of Lisa-Marie Deetlefs while two more waves of Irish attacks in the closing minute were also repelled to leave Ireland painfully licking their wounds.
Ireland: E Gray, M Harvey, C Sargent, E Smyth, E Clarke, A Speers, S McCay, J McDonnell, J O’Halloran, S McCarthy, N Symmons
Subs: L Jacob, A Connery, A O’Flynn, C Watkins, L Colvin
South Africa: M Rix, M Marescia, S Russell, L-M Deetlefs, P Coetzee, N Terblanche, L Marais, K Taylor, K Hubach, T Bright, S Damons
Subs: I Davids, M Keet, D Chamberlain, L-A George, C Evans
For now, though, a big thanks to all who assisted with The Hook’s coverage over the week of the Champions Challenge and the UCD 4 Nations. Among them that need to be mentioned are Tristan Seaton-Stedham who came up with the streaming idea while the IHA were instrumental in making it a reality.
Adrian Boehm put in a Trojan amount of work throughout the tournament with the pics while Ondine Roche and Rodrigo Jaramillo also weighed in with some top class shots.
Ruth McDonagh, Alan Good and Rupert Christie all helped out in a clinch to make sure the show stayed on the road on Friday, weighing in with match reports and twitter updates galore to augment the streaming service.
From the FIH and the IHA, Richard Stainthorpe, Jenny Wiedeke, Katie Roche and Kiara Roantree all helped make life a lot easier, too. It was a great week and one which showed the excellent things we can do in Irish hockey both playing and organisation-wise and one I was really proud to be involved with.