Green Army tantalisingly close to first ever Euro semi

Belfius EuroHockey Championship

Women’s Pool B: Ireland 1 (S Hawkshaw) Germany 1 (P Maertens)

Ireland’s women fell tantalisingly short of a first European Championships semi-final berth with their 1-1 draw against Germany not quite enough to see them through in Antwerp.

Like the men a day before, only a win against the Germans would see them through. Six previous meetings between the countries on this stage had seen the Germans run up six hammerings, most recently a 5-1 outcome in 2017. 

Shirley McCay tackles Anne Schroder. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek / World Sport Pics

Steeled by World Cup silver, however, the Green Army is a different animal these days, harrassing and out-playing at times a side who had never missed out on a medal in this competition.

Indeed, each of their scorelines were the best in Ireland’s Euro history against their three opponents, showing the shift in momentum.

But – like against England on Sunday – it was not quite enough to secure the all-important result.

All the goals came in the first quarter with Sarah Hawkshaw cancelling out a Pia Maertens goal but it was nowhere near the end of the action.

Ireland threw everything forward in search of a winner but they rode their luck, too, with Germany missing a penalty stroke and seeing a goal disallowed. In the end, die Danas got the result that mattered.

 “Game-wise, we did really well,” coach Sean Dancer said of the performance. “We created enough opportunities to win the game, probably gave Germany a bit too much and got lucky. But it highlighted, under pressure, in the big games we need to have better skill execution in the final third including goalscoring ability.

“Every game is won or lost in both circles. Today, it was pleasing the defence really stepped up and had to step up. Germany attack well and have a good penalty corner.

“From an attacking point of view, they just need to back themselves – I want them to start thinking ‘I’m gonna score’. Some of them think about passing before shooting.”

The equation before the game saw Germany needing a draw or better while Ireland could only go through with a victory. And it was the Germans who strengthened their position in an impressive opening phase, capped by Pia Maertens’ awesome run and strike for 1-0, firing high into the net at high velocity.

But for big interventions from Ali Meeke and Roisin Upton, Germany could have had even more joy while Ayeisha McFerran kept out a couple of corners.

From Ireland’s first corner, they equalised – a real melee in front of the goal with Katie Mullan and Hawkshaw digging out the ball from under Julia Sonntag’s pads.

The Green Army goal led a charmed life in the 22nd minute when Elisa Grave contrived to hit both posts in the one move before Beth Barr eventually cleared. Sonntag brilliantly saved from Nicci Daly’s volley for 1-1 at half-time.

The third quarter was free-flowing and end-to-end with both sides winning penalty corners. Sonntag again denied Daly with a sharp save and McFerran brilliantly tipped away a Rebecca Grote push.

Ireland carried the fight with Daly and Sonntag’s personal duel won again by the goalie. Germany then had a goal denied, the umpire’s whistle going just before the ball crossed the goal line. Then they had their stroke when the ball hit a body on the line. McFerran saved from Nike Lorenz.

The final chance fell to Anna O’Flanagan but Sonntag completed a great game when she burst off the line to save with her helmet.

“Really disappointed,” was Shirley McCay’s reaction. “Similar to the England game, we dominated in patches and were just not able to convert our chances. We rode our luck and sometimes you think luck might be on your side.

“We’ve got to remember this feeling and take it into the rest of the tournament because we have a couple of tough matches to come.”

That was a reference to the upcoming relegation pool games. Nonetheless, the three performances show there is a sea-change in Irish ambitions at this level.

“There’s been a real change in our attitude and expectations. With that, it brings extra pressure but it’s something we want to thrive on. It’s disappointing to get four points from a really tough group and not get through.”

The women will carry through three points courtesy of their 11-0 win over Belarus. The men, meanwhile, begin their relegation pool campaign with a date with England at 2.45pm (Irish time) on Thursday.

Ireland: A McFerran, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, B Barr, C Watkins, L Colvin, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke

Subs: R Upton, G Pinder, N Daly, H Matthews, A Meeke, N Evans, L Murphy

Germany: J Sonntag, A Wortmann, N Lorenz, S Oruz, H Gablac, A Schroder, E Grave, J Muller-Wieland, P Maertens, V Huse, H Granitzki

Subs: K Horn, L Micheel, S Zimmerman, F Hauke, C Pieper, R Grote, N Kubalski

Umpires: H Harrison (ENG), L Delforge (BEL)

Belfius EuroHockey Championships (Irish time; Wilrijkse Plein, Antwerp)

Thursday, August 22

Men’s Pool C: Ireland v England, 2.45pm 

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