The Green Army dream lives on as quarter-final beckons

Women’s World Cup
Pool B: Ireland 1 (A O’Flanagan) India 0

The incredible dream lives on. Anna O’Flanagan’s 13th minute corner deflection sent the sport into a new stratosphere as a gritty dog-fight saw Ireland grasp an incredible top spot in Pool B at the Hockey World Cup.

This is a side ranked the second lowest in the competition, lowest in the their group, without a group stage win in the World Cup since 1986. The only non professional – in status, not attitude – side in a their pool that featured the Olympic gold medalists.

And yet, there they are, four points clear after two matches each. It means they can savour Sunday’s last group game against England in front of a 10,600 sell out crowd without pressure of needing a result. It means skipping a crossover match for the second and third place finishers on Tuesday or Wednesday. It means two extra rest days. It means the world.

“For so many years, we have been banging on the door of world hockey,” O’Flanagan said in the wake of the result.

“We’ve come to big tournaments and fallen at the last hurdle. Coming here, we knew we had a lot to show and we knew we could get results from this group. We’re so delighted, mostly because we are playing to our potential, to show world hockey what we are all about.”

Her goal was the vital statistic but her interventions in defence were equally crucial. Several times, along with Nikki Evans and Yvonne O’Byrne, she charged down big drag-flicks.

The first of those blocks came in the fourth minute as India tore into the match, knowing this was their key chance too of grabbing a place in the knock-out stages. It was an area identified by Graham Shaw as a key area and set the number one runners the task of watching “hours of video” of Indian corners to get accustomed the patterns with Shaw hailing their willingness “to put their bodies where it was going to hurt”.

Then, out of not a huge amount, a Chloe Watkins slap into the Indian D bobbled and bounced via O’Flanagan and Katie Mullan with a defensive backstick thrown in. Shirley McCay unleashed yet another power-slap and O’Flanagan’s touch ramped into the roof. Celebrations were stalled a little for an umpire referral from Sarah Wilson; it confirmed it was all stick and no body.

After that, it was time to dig in. India were forcing more errors than game one against the US and were running up the chances. Ayeisha McFerran was calmly dealing with the shots that came her way while Hannah Matthews did brilliantly to save off the left post.

Two Irish corners drew solid saves but the lead felt fragile at 1-0 going into half-time. And that mood endured into the second half as there were regular calls for big tackles from the back four with McCay digging in and Lena Tice picking off some crucial balls.

McFerran dived to tip away a fifth corner while Ali Meeke had one of her best ever games, her nimble feet and tricky skills releasing tension. Irish chances were rare but Mullan’s cross, on another day, only needed a touch from Evans. On another day, she may well have poked in.

It meant nerves continued to be frayed. O’Byrne read a pc switch perfectly and then, four minutes from the end, India had the mother of all chances. Tice was pick-pocketed in the left corner, giving Katariya Vandana but McFerran stood tall to boot away the chance.

That was the moment; Ireland played out the last three minutes perfectly, closing out another monumental result, the biggest one in Irish World Cup history with the potential for more.

Who they play next in that quarter-final could be any one of seven nations at this stage. The Green Army won’t care just yet!

As captain Mullan signed off in her press duties: “Anything’s possible!”

India: Savita, G Kaur, D Ekka. Monika, Deepika, N Toppo, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, S Lakra, R Rampal, L Minz
Subs: Navjot Kaur, R Khokhar, N Pradhan, V Katariya, Udita, N Goyal, R Etimarpu

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

Umpires: C de la Fuente, S Wilson

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