Direct road to London closed by South African hosts

Hockey World League Semi-Final, 5th-8th place playoffs
Ireland 0 South Africa 3 (L-M Deetlefs, B Coston, L du Plessis)

The Irish women’s second chance at direct qualification for the 2018 World Cup came a cropper as they came unstuck in a 3-0 defeat to South Africa in their fifth to eighth place playoff.

It also means a route to London is now out of Ireland’s hands this week with their fate dependent partially on Saturday’s seventh place classification match and then on the autumn’s continental championships.

The two sides conduct team talks. Pic: FIH/Getty

That playoff against India, though, is still an important one to boost Irish qualification hopes and so bouncing back in the right mindset is crucial now. The Pan-Am championships take place in August and if either USA or Argentina win that, another World League ticket becomes available.

Similarly, barring Papua New Guinea causing the mother of all upsets against New Zealand or Australia in Oceania, it will move another notch down the list and so on through the five continental championships so hope remains that a place can still be assured.

Against South Africa, though, Graham Shaw’s side never found the rhythm from early in the tournament that saw them put it up to much higher ranked opposition.

This time, South Africa – rated 13th to Ireland’s 15 – showed their intent with two testers for Ayeisha McFerran in the first few minutes. While the Johannesburg hosts, too, were nervy and error-strewn, they had much of the first half impetus and went ahead from their penalty corner which Lisa-Marie Deetlefs cracked home on her backhand.

Pivotally, Ireland missed a penalty stroke just before half-time. Roisin Upton’s drag-flick from a corner hit Nicolene Terblanche’s face-mask on the goal-line, leading to the stroke, but the Limerick woman saw her effort bounce off the base of the post.

Much greater intent came in the second half. Anna O’Flanagan’s near post touch to Katie Mullan’s cross was brilliantly tipped around the post by Phumela Mbande’s out-stretched stick.

Gillian Pinder’s driving runs kept pushing the side on but, with Chloe Watkins in the sin-bin, South Africa punished on the counter-attack with 11 minutes to go. Hannah Matthews was robbed in the circle by Bernadette Coston who had two bites before eventually striking home for 2-0.

Lilian de Plessis made extra sure with a little lift over kicking back Shirley McCay – in place of goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran – and the game was done.

Roisin Upton closes in on Quanita Bobbs. Pic: FIH/Getty

The focus falls back on the Irish men to make something of this lengthy tournament on Friday. They meet France at 1.30pm (Irish time) in their fifth to eighth place playoff tie – it is not a direct qualifier for the World Cup but win the tie and it would only take a bizarre series of results at the continental championships to deny them.

John McKee will miss the rest of their tournament with a broken collar bone that required a couple of metal plates to be inserted and will see him out of action for a minimum of six weeks.

The French are lower ranked but their draw in the final of World League Round 2 is evidence it will be far from a gimme.

Ireland: A McFerran, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, G Pinder, C Watkins, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke
Subs: Y O’Byrne, N Evans, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, L Colvin, G O’Flanagan

South Africa: P Mbande, C Evans, N Walraven, I Davids, S Jones, L-M Deetlefs, N Terblanche, B Coston, J Mayne, Q Bobbs, S Damons
Subs: K Stella, C Manuel, L du Plessis, J O’Connor, S Baxter, T Glasby, N La Fleur

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