Belfius EuroHockey Championship
Women’s Pool B
Ireland 11 (R Upton 4, A O’Flanagan 2, N Evans 2, B Barr, D Duke, Z Wilson) Belarus 0
An incredible display of penalty corner conversion saw Ireland run up their biggest ever win in the top tier of the European Championships, smashing Belarus 11-0 in Antwerp.
In times gone by, games against lower-ranked opponents have been real dirges, with Ireland struggling by with the maximum of fuss. Belarus gave Ireland a horrible fright in a 3-2 scoreline in the ultimately doomed 2013 campaign; two years ago, a flat performance against the Czech Republic came close to relegating the team.
But this was a procession from the moment Róisín Upton clattered in the first of her four penalty corner goals.
In so doing, they took out their frustrations of missing out on a result against England a day earlier in the most positive of fashions.
There were a few scares in the first and second quarters which led to Sean Dancer having some stern half-time words. Upton started the run from in the fourth minute, dragging in what ended up being the first of nine goals out of a massive 18 corners.
Belarus had a golden chance for an instant riposte when Svetlana Bahushevich was unable to volley in from close range. Anna O’Flanagan popped in a second Irish corner before the end of the first quarter but there was some let up in the second stanza which irked coach Dancer.
“Against defensive teams, the longer they are in the game, the harder it becomes so it was great to start well,” Dancer said. “To me, I want to get more flow and attack and it was good to score corner goals which we have been working on.
“We started the game well and 2-0 up at quarter-time. I really felt we got complacent in the second quarter. The second half we played good hockey again which was pleasing.”
Indeed, within 15 seconds of the restart, Zoe Wilson was thumping in for 3-0, starting a run of six goals in 11 minutes. Upton got the next, Evans the next from open play, then more corner goals from Upton, Beth Barr and Evans.
O’Flanagan scored her second in the 47th minute before Belarus dropped down to nine players with two yellows. Deirdre Duke slammed in for double figures and Upton completed the rout.
It gives Ireland a shot to nothing against Germany – royalty at this level of competition – on Wednesday with a win earning them a first ever place in the continental championship semi-final, keeping alive fanciful hopes of winning the Olympic ticket on offer.
“It’s a challenge the girls are really looking forward to,” coach Sean Dancer said.”England did a really good job blocking up the field on Germany [in their 1-1 draw], that shows there is a good way to get at Germany and we can hurt them from there. They will be tough but there is positive energy that we can put them under the pump.”
The manner of the display has a distinctly ruthless Australian streak about, perhaps some of Dancer’s Gold Coast upbringing has already rubbed off on the side.
“We have to play every game as hard as we can for every minute. That’s a philosophy I want to instill in the team and will keep pushing.”
And Upton backed that assessment, saying: “There was a talking to at half time, ‘switch on, get back in the game, play to our standards’. Sean had a word about chasing the opportunity. You only get five game in this competition and not to waste any of them.
“Sean has come in and injected even more belief, even since the World Cup last year. We start to believe we can compete with the top teams and that is half the battle. But it’s still a flip of a coin between the top four and the bottom four.”
It was also positive for the side to see Evans among the goals having missed out on selection for the FIH Series. She said that setback spurred her to push harder for inclusion this time around.
“It’s always disappointing to miss out but it was a good chance for me to reset and refocus. We have been training very hard with a new coach coming in, new principles and adapting to his style to add to our team. It has suited me and I am really enjoying it.”
It was a busy day for the coach who is keen to leave nothing to chance to see Ireland build on the World Cup success. His day started with carting 72 bottles of water from the local supermarket to the Wilrijkse Plein venue, struggling with the trolley over the Antwerp cobbles.
And he doesn’t feel anyone in the staff or team should be above mucking in like that.
“To me, it’s part of the team ethic. I certainly don’t have a hierarchy system. Being the coach doesn’t mean you are above doing things like that. Each situation is unique but I am happy to have every member of staff actively involved.”
The Irish men have the same equation; win against Germany on Tuesday (2.45pm, Irish time) and they will be in the semis.
Ireland: A McFerran, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, C Watkins, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson
Subs: R Upton, N Evans, G Pinder, B Barr, D Duke, A Meeke, L Murphy
Belarus: M Navitskaya, H Zhylevich, K Mitskevich, U Kasabutskaya, K Papkova, M Halinouskaya, S Bahushevich, N Silitskaya, N Syrayezhka, M Nikitsina, K Syddykava
Subs: N Shtsin, D Belbusava, X Efimencova, Y Kurhanskaya, V Skryba, V Sidarava
Umpires: Y Makar (CRO), C Martin-Schmets (BEL)