Game 1: vs Holland
The Ireland team, captained by Maggie Hunter, came to London with a full squad. Coach Ben Epstein had high hopes for this team who were bronze medallists in the 2014 World Cup in Rotterdam and are current holders of the Home Nations Trophy.
The first game was against the Dutch, a formidable hockey nation, but an early Joan Dobson goal settled any Irish nerves. Fellow Munster player Dymphna Hill made a short run from the left midfield to feed Dobson on the right of goal and she took the opportunity with aplomb.
Ireland had the most of the possession for most of the half but failed to capitalise further. It was the fourth quarter before Ireland really got going and two quick goals from Roly Burke, the first from a penalty corner, and one from open play, ensured the win.
A fourth goal followed a delightful combination between Joan Dobson, Kathy Shaw and Dee Wallace with Wallace getting the credit. This match was played in 30 degree heat so huge credit to the work rate of the midfield and forwards who ran tirelessly, none more so than joint players of the match Joanne O’Grady and Joan Dobson.
Game 2: vs Scotland
In the second game of the tournament, Ireland 50’s took on Scotland and faced a seasoned masters team as well as the elements, which left a water-logged pitch for most of the first half.
Play started for the Irish much as they had finished yesterday and they scored in the first quarter through Carolyn Burns. Good work from Wallace and Dobson on the left led to the ball being delivered to Burns on the right who made no mistake in putting the Irish 1-0 up.
The rain continued throughout the first half and, even though Ireland continued to pressurise the Scottish defence, they held tight with the Scottish keeper making a number of saves.
The weather cleared in the second half and this suited Ireland as they saw their way to score a further two goals. The first of these through a corner, ball ejected by Linda Jenkinson, stopped by Joanne O’Grady and scored by Roly Burke.
The final goal of the game was a perfect team goal, coming from defence, through midfield, a pinpoint pass from Cathy Walsh to Claire Bell who made no mistake in slotting it past the oncoming keeper. This was a good result for the Irish team who go into their rest day on full points and 7 goals.
Game 3: vs England
This was a confidence game for both teams with each looking for the win that would take them to the final. The previous meeting in the Home Nations eight weeks ago went Ireland’s way.
Ireland started very well, forcing play down both flanks and keeping England on the defensive. During this stage of pressure England conceded a long corner and a clever switch by Roly Burke to Jayne Salter paid off when she played a ball to Kathryn Shaw at the right post for a deflected goal, one straight from the training pitch.
England lifted their game for the remainder of the half but good marking by Anne Snoddy, Linda Jenkinson and Maura O’Neill and the Irish defence held firm. Ireland changed tactics in the second half, packing the midfield, and this resulted in good possession forcing three penalty corners with no further outcome. This 1-0 result left Ireland in the final with Wales to play and England needing to beat Scotland in their final pool game to join Ireland in the final.
Game 4: vs Wales
Having already qualified for the final, coach Ben Epstein used this game to try a few changes for tactical and physical reasons. The first half was a scrappy affair and Wales kept Ireland at bay until early in the second half when Jayne Salter converted a penalty corner.
This settled the team and a second penalty corner goal followed with a neat switch to Maggie Hunter who made no mistake in slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. In the final 10 minutes, Ireland added two more goals to their tally, one from Dymphna Hill a reverse stick skill reaping rewards and one from Kathy Walsh popping up at the flick spot to score from open play.
Ireland finished the game knowing that the final would be played at a higher tempo. Four games four wins 12 goals for and 0 goals conceded is good stats at any level.
Final: vs England
Going into the final as favourites against England was as uncomfortable for Ireland as it was for England. It was England, however, who looked the more dangerous in the first quarter and after a number of fast attacks were fortunate to score after a disputed close range shot at goal.
In the second quarter, Ireland had settled and were starting to create chances, one via Marian O’Brien whose finish went wide and another with Dee Wallace just losing control at the left of the circle.
On the half time whistle, England having forced a penalty corner scored when a deflection from the first shot was slotted home. At half time, coach Epstein changed formation to contain the English midfield and this kept England in their own half most of the third quarter.
During this quarter, Ireland forced a number of penalty corners but to no avail as the English defence were equal to all variations. At the end of the third quarter a break away goal for England broke the hearts of the strong Irish support.
Early in the final quarter, Ireland took of their keeper going to 11 outfield players and shortly afterwards were awarded a penalty flick after an infringement on the English goal line. Jayne Salter made no mistake with a calm execution.
The score 3-1 with 5 mins to go, Ireland pressed for more goals but England held fast playing out time to beat Ireland for the first time in 3 attempts this year and win the European gold leaving Ireland coming home with European Silver which is, as the dust settles, a commendable achievement. Well done the Over 50’s!