Belfius EuroHockey Championships
Women’s Pool B: England 2 (S Petty, G Ansley) Ireland 1 (B Barr)
Ireland’s women produced a rousing last quarter but could not find an equaliser from their opening Belfius EuroHockey Championships tie in Antwerp.
Trailing 2-0 at half-time to a pair of penalty corner goals, Ireland bossed large parts of the second half with Beth Barr getting one back with 17 minutes to go.
And they had chance after chance in the closing 10 minutes but could not find a way past the defences of two-time world goalkeeper of the year Maddie Hinch.
“We’re pretty frustrated with the result, not the performance we put in, especially in the second half,” Irish captain Katie Mullan said afterwards.
“We were a bit slow to start but they felt our pressure in the second half and we could have done with a couple more minutes at the end. We would have got the goal with another quarter!
“But it does say a lot about where we are at and where we are moving to. It wasn’t about hanging on. For us, we controlled phases of the game, had a lot of opportunities. In the past against England, it would be a different story so that is a positive.
“It was a physical game, some hard tackles from both sides. I personally enjoy that bit of physicality, a good battle.”
Coach Sean Dancer agreed, adding: “Disappointed as a group to lose the game. Every result here is a really big deal. I can’t fault the effort and work rate. It just showed a few areas we need to fix up on and if you don’t get them right, it can cost you the game.
In the first half, England took what looked like full control in the first half with penalty corner goals in either quarter for a 2-0 advantage.
Hannah Martin was the key player, her bounding runs causing plenty of problems, and she won the corner which led to their opening goal.
It is one that Ireland could have avoided. In the last 20 seconds of the quarter, Zoe Wilson took a quick free-out but did not get the full weight behind her overhead and Martin intercepted.
It proved costly. Ayeisha McFerran saved Ansley’s first shot but Anna Toman kept the ball live and, after a couple of swipes, Petty nudged in at the left post for 1-0.
“I want to give the players the freedom to do what they think they can do so I am certainly not going to turn around and say it was a bad decision,” Dancer said of the free.
“But the quality and execution could be better. When we do turn the ball over, how do we close it down quickly – with 20 second to go on the clock, maybe it wasn’t the best option. In the end, it wasn’t the reason we lost the game.”
Ansley doubled the lead from another set piece, a breathtaking drag-flick that was too quick for the out-stretched reach of McFerran.
For Ireland, the pick of their first half manouveres came in the last minute via a corner. Roisin Upton’s push took a deflection from Anna O’Flanagan, hopping and skipping over Maddie Hinch but Toman was in place to clear up.
But, after a scrappy phase of the game, Ireland got a goal back from their second corner while England were down to 10 players with Martin on a yellow. Chloe Watkins – who was outstanding in midfield – won the corner and then slapped the ball into Beth Barr whose touch made it through Hinch, setting up a fascinating final quarter.
Martin thrashed inches wide with a great chance before Ireland started to step on once again, creating chance after chance. Cards became more prevailent, too, with Zoe Wilson and Sarah Evans taking yellows.
Maddie Hinch made two hugely important saves while Shirley McCay’s penalty corner shot went inches wide. That corner was given for a forceful foul on Anna O’Flanagan which led to Evans’ yellow.
Plenty of neutrals backed calls for a stroke; Dancer did not want to be overly drawn on the decision as his side fell to a slender loss.
“The rule says a deliberate foul in the circle is a penalty stroke. Once again, I am not going to criticise the umpires – they are doing the best job they can so we will just let them review it and see what they think.”
“Disappointed as a group to lose the game,” he continued. “Every result here is a really big deal. I can’t fault the effort and work rate. It just showed a few areas we need to fix up on and if you don’t get them right, it can cost you the game.”
Ireland play Belarus on Monday (2.45pm, Irish time) in a quick turnaround, hoping to get their first win of the campaign. Belarus lost 13-0 to Germany and so a victory is imperative.
“You’ve got to move on very quickly in tournament hockey,” Mullan added. “We won’t reflect too much on today but we will look to control and play like the second half to tee up a big game for ourselves against Germany.”
Umpires: C Druijts (NED), C Wright (WAL)
Ireland: A McFerran, N Evans, L Tice, K Mullan, B Barr, L Colvin, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke, A Meeke
Subs: R Upton, G Pinder, S McCay, C Watkins, S Hawkshaw, L Murphy, N Daly
England: M Hinch, L Unsworth, A Toman, H Martin, S Townsend, S Petty, E Rayer, G Ansley, H Pearne-Webb, L Owsley, I Petter
Subs: S Evans, T Howard, E Deforand, S McCallin, J Hunter, G Balsdon, A Tennant