Hockey World League Round 2, semi-final
Ireland 2 (O’Byrne, O’Flanagan) Wales 0
Mission complete in Kuala Lumpur as Ireland’s women defeated Wales 2-0 to guarantee at least a top two finish at World League Round 2 with Yvonne O’Byrne and Anna O’Flanagan striking quick succession to underpin the win.
Coach Graham Shaw said “it was a fantastic feeling to know we are in WL3 and we are really looking forward to the summer ahead” as he eyes a shot at earning a 2018 World Cup place later in the year”.
Two goals in two minutes proved the difference against a Welsh side that offered a much tougher proposition than the majority of the sides Ireland had played to date in Malaysia.
It left a bit more space for the likes of Katie Mullan and Anna O’Flanagan to charging into the circle with the former going close in the 19th minute but her reverse strike pinged off the post.
— Ire Women's Hockey (@IreWomenHockey) January 21, 2017
O’Flanagan was again causing the Welsh defence trouble and Rose Thomas – recently called into the GB squad – was called on to make several great saves.
The deadlock was broken in the 27th minute from a penalty corner converted by Yvonne O’Byrne. True to form, O’Flanagan doubled the lead just a minute later as she bolted down the right wing and into the circle, drawing Thomas into no-man’s-land before scoring on the reverse.
It gave the game a much-changed look with Wales needing to come further out of their shell. Nonetheless, Ireland held the advantage with 60% of possession.
Penalty corners for each team saw them exchange shots that whizzed wide past the post. Ayeisha McFerran made a strong save in the final few minutes of the third quarter to keep her clean sheet and the 2-0 cushion intact.
Thomas was again forced to make a great save in the Welsh goal but as the clock ticked down Ireland rarely left the Welsh half and secured the 2-0 victory.
After the final whistle Shaw said: “I thought the girls performed well in patches. We controlled the game well and limited them to four circle entries.
“It can be difficult playing teams at such a different level throughout the tournament. Wales played very well today and, at times made things very difficult for our gameplan.
“But we scored two very good goals and limited their goal scoring opportunities throughout the whole game.”
The win continued an incredible 100% record for coach Shaw in competitive games, one which he hopes to build on in the tournament final.
“We’re really looking forward to taking on Malaysia in the final. It will be an incredible atmosphere and something we can only learn from. It’s a fantastic opportunity to test how we deal with the noise from the home crowd”.
The Green Army will face Malaysia in Sunday’s final (12:30pm Irish time). Malaysia, despite their ranking of 21, should not be underestimated given they beat higher ranked Italy to secure their place in the final as well as recently beating world number five New Zealand.
Ireland: A McFerran, C Sargent, N Evans, K Mullan (Captain), S McCay, C Watkins, L Colvin, N Daly, Y O’Byrne, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson
Subs: C Cassin, H Matthews, L Tice, N Carroll, G Pinder, R Upton, R Barry