UDG Healthcare World League Round 2
Ireland 7 (N Evans 2, A O’Flanagan, M Frazer, N Carroll, E Smyth, K Mullan) Belarus 0
Ireland’s women put in a breathtaking first half performance to seal progression to the final phase of the Olympic qualifying process as they beat Belarus 7-0 at the UDG Healthcare World League Round 2 in Belfield.
The win ensures a final berth and, more importantly, sees Ireland finish in the top two of the competition which brings with it a ticket to World League round 3 in June where the Olympic tickets are decided.
This was anticipated to be a close encounter, the last meeting a 3-2 win for Ireland in the 2013 European championships while Belarus beat Ireland in their previous meeting. But this was scarcely a contest as Ireland produced the performance of the campaign when the stakes were highest.
It took just 77 seconds to break the deadlock as Anna O’Flanagan forged a route down the left wing, unlocking the door for Katie Mullan to square for Nikki Evans to tip in.
O’Flanagan extended the lead in the sixth minute when she initially miscontrolled a right wing cross but had the wherewithal to recover the ball. She duly danced in and out of a series of tackles before slipping home past Maryna Navitskaya.
Ireland were producing some beautiful, free-flowing stuff and created two or three open goals that went unconverted. On another day, this might have mattered more but the goals continued to flow.
Naomi Carroll’s shot was blocked on the line by a body allowing Megan Frazer to convert her third penalty stroke of the tie for 3-0 just 13 minutes in.
Shirley McCay then created goals four and five with two delicious crosses. The former was turned in by Carroll for her fifth goal of the tournament while Emma Smyth slapped in the next first time after a lovely left wing attack.
The second half followed the same pattern with Ireland dominating the play with some sweet interchanges. Mullan smashed home a rebound for the sixth before Evans completed the rout in the 48th minute with the pick of the bunch, a rocket off her backhand to the roof of the net.
It means Ireland contest the final at 5pm in Belfield on Sunday against Canada after they prevailed against Chile 5-4 on penalties.
Captain Megan Frazer, one the tournament’s stand out players thus far, said afterwards: “It’s always nice to come out like that in a high pressure game, a great performance. We’re through to World League 3 and that’s what we wanted from this week and a have a final to come.
“We had spoken about picking up the speed and intensity throughout the tournament and hit the nail on the head. It’s something we will look to carry on tomorrow and further on in the future. It’s a great platform to build on.”
The conviction of the performance is a far cry from 2013 when Ireland struggled against the same opposition, showing how far the side have come since then. Frazer added that her side were confident in their own methods.
“We obviously have some history with them but we did this in a really professional manner. You can carry baggage against teams like that but we nipped that in the bud, gave them nothing and got a clean sheet. It was a great performance.
“We all knew it was a high pressure game and have played in them before. It’s a testament to the girls who kept their composure and kept it simple. Our passing rate, speed of play and our basics were on point. It’s something we are building up to.
She also paid tribute to another big crowd at Belfield.
“They have been phenomenal. Every time we come out, the stands are full even when the Six Nations rugby match was on. It is an honour to perform when everyone supports us like that and we really appreciate it.”
Darren Smith added about his team’s performance: “We played well, especially in the first quarter, when we were able to get on top of them and score some really nice goals. The pleasing thing was we retained our energy and intensity for the 60 minutes and there could have been more goals.
“The girls were creative and full of energy against a potentially dangerous opposition who we put away quite comfortably. We were quick and aggressive, the strikers were full of running.
“Maybe we didn’t have that intensity a couple of years ago but it was great to see it today.
“In 2014, we had some really good performances. We managed to get our speed up and play some good hockey. Today wasn’t dissimilar to the games we have played in the past year.”
Following Sunday’s final, Ireland will find out where the next phase of the World League sends them with Valencia looking the most likely venue.
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
Belarus: M Navitskaya, H Zabrotskaya, U Kasabutskaya, M Halinouskaya, M Pakhanava, H Lupach, S Bahushevich, N Silitskaya, N Syrayezhka, K Papkova, R Batura
Subs: L Nestsiarovich, K Syddykaya, N Shitsin, P Papelskaya, H Tsabrova, D Belavusava, V Mikanovich
5th-8th playoffs: Austria 6 (C Zerbs 2, L Thornblom, K Sandner, V Kruger, R Rubas) Turkey 0; Lithuania 2 (K Poskute 2) Ukraine 0