UDG Healthcare World League Round 2 final
Ireland 1 (N Evans) Canada 1 (H Stewart), Ireland win 4-3 in a shoot-out
Aine Connery’s nerveless penalty saw Ireland land the UDG Healthcare World League Round 2 title at Belfield, completing a perfect week with a final victory over Canada.
It came at the end of a pulsating final that ended 1-1, Nikki Evans and Holly Stewart netting close range goals from penalty corners in the third quarter.
The sides were inseparable thereafter, leading to the shoot-out with Connery scoring the vital goal in the final round, winning out 4-3. Ayeisha McFerran, still just 19 years old, played a huge part, too, saving Canada’s fifth penalty with a superb display of agility.
Played out in front of a capacity crowd that included President Michael D Higgins, it provided a fitting finale for a week in which Ireland also progressed their Olympic hopes.
By reaching the final, Ireland earned one of two spots to World League Round 3 in June which acts as the final Olympic qualifying tournament.
Ireland burst out of the blocks in the final with Emma Smyth winning an early penalty corner that Katie Mullan squeezed through the defences of Kaitlynn Williams only for Abigail Raye to scoop the ball off the line.
Nikki Evans was next to try her luck with a vicious high shot that Williams – later named goalkeeper of the tournament – did well to palm away. Kate Dillon volleyed another just past the post before Canada found their feet in the second quarter with Natalie Sourisseau at the heart of their good work.
Emma Gray needed to be alert to deny Alex Thicke from close range, ensuring the sides went into half time scoreless.
Within 35 seconds of the restart, the deadlock was broken as Chloe Watkins, one of Ireland’s key players on the day, jinked into the circle to win a corner. Cliodhna Sargent’s bash was saved by Williams but only as far as Evans who snapped up the rebound with relish.
Canada levelled, though, in the 37th minute with a very smart move, picking out Stewart on the right post and she applied the right level of elevation to equalise.
From there, both sides had chances to win it with Gray saving from Brienne Stairs with her helmet, a fantastic stop at close quarters in the second last minute.
Ireland also had a corner chance denied on the final hooter but the chance went awry, leading to the shoot-out.
McFerran was swapped into goal for the one-on-ones and duly did enough to put off Stephanie Norlander in the first round. Ireland converted their first three efforts, from Megan Frazer, Anna O’Flanagan and Emma Smyth but the tie was locked at 3-3 going into the final round after Katie Mullan slipped her shot wide.
No matter, McFerran saved from Raye before Connery held her cool to slip home the winner as Belfield erupted.
Speaking afterwards, coach Darren Smith said it was a superb end to a great week for the Irish team.
“Fantastic crowd, the President of Ireland, friends and family all here and a chance to win a tournament. The girls were really excited for the final and, in the end, it was good spectacle. Canada did a good job but we got the result in the end.
“World League 2, from my perspective, was a great advertisement for hockey and a lot of fun.”
Key defender Shirley McCay added: “The level of our general play and our basics has improved and I think we are very clear in our jobs which allows us to play with freedom and flow. It’s really enjoyable to play this way and we’re looking to build something special.”
Ireland: E Gray, C Sargent, E Smyth, N Evans, S McCay, M Frazer, N Daly, H Matthews, K Mullan, A O’Flanagan, G Pinder
Subs: N Carroll, A Connery, C Watkins, L Colvin, K Dillon, A Meeke, A McFerran
Canada: K Williams, K Gillis, D Hennig, T Culley, H Haughn, K Johansen, A Raye, N Sourisseau, S McManus, M Secco, B Stairs
Subs: H Stewart, A Woodcroft, S Johnston, S Norlander, A Thicke, R Beale, A Frisch