Korea crash Irish party but Green Army reflect on Olympic qualifier spot after joyous week

Women’s FIH Series Final
Ireland 1 (N Daly) Korea 3 (H Kim, E Cheon, J Kang)

When Jina Kang clipped home the killer goal with six seconds on the clock, an eerie quiet fell over a sold out Banbridge as the game was up in pursuit of FIH Series gold, a slightly deflating end to a joyous week for the Green Army.

The cheers soon rose again and the deflation did not last too long with the primary target of an Olympic qualifier place assured with a strong chance of it being a home date late in October into the bargain.

“We had our eyes set on winning this tournament and the ranking points that come with it,” Gillian Pinder said afterwards.

“Of course, it is disappointing but we are still qualifed for that playoff and still have pretty big fish to fry in the Europeans in August. It’s not the end of the world but it is a disappointing end to a really good week.”

“We can reflect on a golden ticket for October,” Roisin Upton added. “It has been a fantastic setup and such an enjoyable week being able to host a tournament like this in Ireland.”

In addition to the title, the value of this tie was to boost ranking points which would have boosted the chances of hosting that qualifier.

But Korea were different gravy to anything else Ireland faced this week as the cruise control of the last four outings was replaced by a gun-fight.

Ireland were wary throughout of the Asian side’s long overheads which they managed early on but struggled with when the game became stretched in the closing stages.

The step up in quality was evident early on. Ayeisha McFerran had been a spectator for most of the event but she was called on frequently in a cracking first half.

Player of the tournament and top goalscorer Anna O’Flanagan. Pic: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

The 2018 world goalkeeper of the year had to boot clear a number of chances before the big break as Korea gave as good as they got.

Ireland, for their part, were picking exquisite angles for their long passes with Roisin Upton and Shirley McCay’s vision a feature while Zoe Wilson relished her role in stepping out from the back.

From one, Chloe Watkins drew an incredible save from Soo Ji Jang’s out-stretched toe while the Korean keeper also slid out to deny player of the tournament Anna O’Flanagan.

Upton had a goal ruled out from a penalty corner with Chloe Brown deemed to have obstructed the first runner in the 21st minute.

Both Upton and interim coach Gareth Grundie lamented the lack of video referral at this event, a staple in competitions of this magnitude. It was a turning point.

“I didn’t think there was much wrong with the goal we scored but not having video referral had an impact,” said interim coach Gareth Grundie.

“We sent a few emails [about video reviews] when they announced it wasn’t happening because we were worried about it given it’s such a high importance event. Credit to Korea, after that, they came at us a bit more.”

The third quarter initially saw Ireland make most of the play before it became ragged with Korea coming back strong with Lena Tice twice called on to save off the line.

And they broke the game their way 24 seconds into the final stanza as a long overhead caused commotion from tip off as Hyunji Kim eventually wriggled free to lift over McFerran for 1-0.

With four minutes to go, Hyejeong Shin slipped in Eunbi Cheon to apply a first time finish. Ireland have fought back against Korea from worse positions, notably with two final minute goals at the 2016 Hawkes Bay Cup, and Nicci Daly’s effort gave hope with 85 seconds left.

Korea, though, had the last laugh when a pitch length overhead was missed by everyone except Jina Kang who finished into an open net.

It was interim head coach Gareth Grundie’s last game in the role with Sean Dancer taking on the role for the Olympic qualifier to be played in October or November.

Chloe Watkins on the attack. Pic: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“It would have been nice to finish with a 100% record,” Grundie said of his time in charge. “The girls have been brilliant, very receptive and supportive as have the rest of the staff. I am looking forward to learning more from Sean in the build-up to the Euros in August. Back to assistant now!

“Head coach is something I’d love to do in future but I probably need a bit more experience.

“We caught them a little bit with our press and did well taking down their aerials. We knew that would be a main threat; they adapted, picked off our weaknesses so we changed again and were really on top in the third quarter. This is the standard we want to play, if not above, and it was a good challenge.”

Nonetheless, he is quietly confident the side have done enough to gain a home draw for the Olympic qualifiers. Plenty of water has to pass under the bridge, not least those Europeans but a solid performance there should set up another big weekend out for the side in the autumn.

And the players are relishing the chance to grow their fanbase further in the future.

“Warming up and the PA was on the speaker getting people to move in,” Pinder said. “We don’t get that in hockey. Banbridge did a brilliant job. The stadium looks great; it was so well run and we are just disappointed we didn’t deliver the goods.

“It was brilliant this week,” Upton added. “We couldn’t have wished for more. The setup here in Banbridge was phenomenal with the tented village. The weather has been bad all week and the crowds still came out. We can only hope to host more of these, particularly if we get our home base in Dublin, that will happen.”

Ireland: A McFerran, R Upton, K Mullan, S McCay, B Barr, C Watkins, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson
Subs: C Brown, L Tice, G Pinder, S Hawkshaw, D Duke, A Meeke, E Buckley

Korea: S J Jang, Y Lee, H An, E Cheon, J Kang, E Cho, Y Lee, H Jang, H Cho, H Shin, S Lee
Subs: J Seo, S J Choi, S Kim, E Yu, H Kim, S Kang, Y Choi

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