Improved Irish fall to third Spanish loss

Senior women’s international challenge match: Ireland 1 (Alex Speers) Spain 3 (B Bonastre, B Perez, S Munoz)
With the shackles released, Ireland produced their best hockey in the second half of their three game series with Spain at Belfield but a counter-attack penalty stroke denied the side the chance of breaking the Spaniard’s winning run.

Superb goals from Berta Bonastre and Bea Perez gave Spain a 2-0 lead from a low-key first half but skipper Alex Speers and Aine Connery kick-started a lively second half performance.

The former pulled one back in the 44th minute from a Sinead McCarthy rebound while Connery used the skills honed on the Kilkenny camogie fields to good effect to provide a constant nuisance down the left wing.

They were stung, though, by a Spanish counter-attack which killed the game as Carlota Petchame was felled by Emma Gray and Sylvia Munoz converted the ensuing penalty stroke.

Coach Gene Muller was heartened by a marked increase in attacking intent in the second half, winning six penalty corners and three times forcing Isabel Barguno into full-stretch saves.

Emma Clarke came in for her first appearance of the series with Lizzie Colvin sitting out once more due to her injury though she is likely to be back in training during the week.

The first half was a drab affair, play confined largely between the 22s, with the sides mainly looking to capitalise on mistakes. Julia Menendez forged one such opening in the sixth minute, squeezing possession from Shirley McCay’s grasp to play in Bonastre who shot a superb reverse.

With a slightly defensive outlook, Ireland struggled to get the requisite numbers forward in the first half, only entering the circle with the ball twice in the whole half, the most prominent of which was Niamh Small’s crack. Chloe Watkins won a corner from outside the circle but Michell Harvey’s flick was dealt with by Maria Lopez de Eguilaz comfortably.

By that stage, Spain had moved 2-0 up in slightly comical fashion. Bea Perez applied a sublime deflection to Gloria Comerma’s left wing cross. It flew into the top of the goal and bounced out quickly. The Spanish celebrated, Ireland looked confused while the umpire waved for a long corner before a consultation eventually found the right decision.

But, with a change of intent in the second period, Ireland were a transformed outfit and created a string of chances. Connery’s diving hit was well saved while an innovative upright reverse skidded past the back post, skipping over Speers’ stick on the back post. All the while, the corner count was mounting – Spain won none – and the breakthrough came in the 41st minute.

Back to 2-1, Ireland created plenty, a far cry from their previous two games, but were stung on the counter as Petchame and Georgina Oliva were left two-on-one with Emma Gray.

That stroke won the tie but Ireland continued to pile forward and won a further three corners while Lisa Jacob’s first time reverse went close two.

The manner of performance was a positive note to finish the series on as Ireland complete their preparations for the European championships – which start on August 20 – with a pair of matches next weekend against world number one side Argentina, the first taking place on Friday night.

Ireland: E Gray, M Harvey, C Sargent, E Smyth, A Speers, S McCay, J O’Halloran, S McCarthy, A Connery, N Symmons
Subs: M Crowley, L Jacob, N Small, A O’Flynn, C Watkins, N Daly

Spain: M Lopez de Eguilaz, J Menendez, R Ybarra, B Bonastre, M Prat, B Malda, P Sanchez, A Flores, L Riera, B Perez, G Comerma
Subs: R Huertas, I Barguno, M Lopez, S Munoz, P Dabanch, M Garcia, O Pineiro, G Oliva

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