Same scoreline as Spanish changes help pick off under par Irish performance

Tri Nations series
Ireland 1 (N Carroll) Spain 2 (M Contardi, L Riera)

Darren Smith said his side “struggled to adapt” to a different Spanish approach in their second game this week at Belfield.

The scoreline was the same as game one but its realisation much different as Spain played a smart counter-attack game as they picked off some overly direct Irish efforts, a move that helped the visitors come from a goal down to continue their perfect record in the Tri-Nations series this week.

Naomi Carroll gave Ireland a 20th minute lead Pic: Adrian Boehm

Naomi Carroll gave Ireland a 20th minute lead Pic: Adrian Boehm

Speaking after the tie, Irish coach Smith said that the impetuous streak played a part in ultimately allowing Spain come back from a goal down.

“On Friday, we had 20 opportunities on goal and they had six; double the circle penetrations. In terms of territory and opportunities, it was in our favour on Friday. Even tonight, we had seven opportunities on goal to their six; 20 circle penetrations to their 12.

“The numbers were in our favour but, through the midfield, they shaped up differently and we struggled to adapt. Two of their better players – Georgina Oliva and Rocio Ybarra – started to touch the ball a lot and get a lot of flow to their play.

“When we had the ball, we were too direct and tried to play through the centre of the pitch and our decision-making let us down a wee bit. We would outlet from one side to the other and then try and whack it through. It was a frustrating day.”

Naomi Carroll turned home Emma Smyth’s sweep shot from the second penalty corner of the game to give Ireland a 20th minute lead. But Spain were on terms eight seconds before the interval as a smartly moved free-hit was worked to Oliva who whizzed the ball toward the right post where Maria Contardi touched the ball behind her back into the left corner, a delicious first time effort.

And, in an error-strewn second half, Lola Riera put Spain in front on 55 minutes with a low drag-flick to win the tie as Ireland struggled to unpick a compact visiting defence. Riera saw a second flick tipped away by an excellent Ayeisha McFerran save low down but Ireland were unable to grab any of the late half-chances to tie the game up.

Smith said Spain’s ability to lure Ireland in to passing long, on this occasion, worked in their favour and was enough to shade the contest.

“Even when they full press, its not really a big threat like Australia or New Zealand. It’s still to try and win it in midfield. They do hold the ball well and counter-attack relatively well so we enjoy playing against [Spanish coach] Adrian [Lock]. Both of the games have been close and while we were well below our best tonight, it was a pretty close game. They are smart and do some good stuff.”

Nonetheless, it was another useful experience for the Irish panel toward their long-term goals. By the end of this week’s series of eight games in 12 days, Ireland’s senior women will have had 68 centralised days together along with 28 test matches as part of an incredibly busy summer together as a panel before taking a short break on August 24.

It is a measure of the preparations being put in to be in the best possible shape for the World League round two – Ireland’s first step on the OIympic qualifying path – next February.

Ireland have a day off on Tuesday before meeting France for a third time on Wednesday evening and play Spain for a fourth time on Thursday. It is part of Ireland’s lengthy build-up to next February’s World League round two, the first phase in the Olympic qualifying process.

Despite two resounding wins over a youthful French side, featuring ten players with under 20 caps, he says there is value to the games. In previous competitions, Ireland have got into goal difference issues when they have not killed off games that they have held the ascendancy.

With the World League likely to feature a number of sides well below Ireland in the world rankings, developing the confidence to unlock packed defences is a decent asset to add to the armoury.

“We’re just trying to keep our game simple, play a good tempo, create and score as many as we can against France. You still have to score your goals and take your chances and that’s the value you get out of it.”

Ireland: E Gray, E Smyth, C Brown, S McCay, M Frazer, N Carroll, A Connery, C Watkins, H Matthews, G Pinder, Y O’Byrne
Subs: N Evans, A O’Flynn, K Mullan, A O’Flanagan, K Dillon, E Beatty, A McFerran

Spain: M Lopez, R Ybarra, M Lopez Garcia, B Bonastre, C Guinea, M Contardi, L Riera, P Marana, G Comerma, G Oliva, M Gomez
Subs: L Ybarra, C Petchame, B Garcia, A Magaz, X Gine, B Perez, M Ruiz

Umpires: Aisling Keogh, Yolande Lanzas

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