Black Sticks make late pressure tell in Hawkes Bay

Hawkes Bay Cup
Ireland 1 (N Evans) New Zealand 3 (A Punt, S Michelsen, C Harrison)

Two final quarter goals cost the Green Army dear in an otherwise impressive performance as they eventually fell 3-1 to Hawkes Bay Cup hosts New Zealand having led 1-0 at half-time.

They carried the momentum of Sunday’s excellent 4-0 win over India into this tie and took just nine minutes to take the lead. Katie Mullan’s long overhead was miscontrolled at right back and Nicci Daly stole in behind the defence. Her reverse-stick cross was met by the waiting Nikki Evans to complete the goal.

The New Zealand press, notoriously strong, was putting Ireland under plenty of pressure but the Irish did well in the face of it as they passed the ball around the back and patiently drove it out with impressive breaks from Gillian Pinder and Naomi Carroll. Patience and composure were the order of the first 30 minutes as the Green Army went into half time with a 1-0 lead.

A penalty corner for the Black Sticks two minutes into the second half was slotted high into the goal by Anita Punt to draw the game level at 1-1 from a switch left. Ireland were forced to absorb a lot of pressure as the ball rarely made its way into the New Zealand half of the pitch but a further two corners for New Zealand were well stopped by the Irish.

But the onslaught eventually told when Chloe Watkins was in the sin-bin with a yellow card – after three earlier Irish greens. Sophie Cocks and Charlotte Harrison combined to sneak in between a number of defenders and the ball broke to Stacey Michelsen who ripped a first time shot into the roof of the net in the 52nd minute.

Two minutes later, Kayla Whitelock produced an inch-perfect pass from halfway that left the Black Sticks with three players in behind the last defender. Michelsen passed the ball around Ayeisha McFerran for Harrison to tap into the goal.

The result means Ireland will play Australia on Thursday in the quarter-final after the Hockeyroos finished second in their pool – Ireland ended third in theirs.

Speaking about the match, coach Graham Shaw said: “We started well, built some nice attacks, controlled the phases and it was quite an even game at half time. There were some key moments out there we didn’t transition quick enough but we’re very pleased we performed to the level we know we can; we’ll take the positives from it and learn from our mistakes.”

On Australia, Shaw added: “We know if we can perform and execute in the key moments, and stay in it for 60 minutes we can get a result. We have outstanding hockey players in our group and we’re looking forward to Thursday”.

A McFerran, Y O’Byrne, C Watkins, N Daly, M Frazer, C Sargent, Z Wilson, A O’Flanagan, D Duke, N Evans, H Matthews, L Tice, G Pinder, S Loughran, N Carroll, E Beatty, K Mullan, P Smithwick

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