Women’s Belfius EuroHockey Championships
Pool C: Ireland 3 (N Evans, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan) Russia 2 (B Sadovaia, A Leonova)
Katie Mullan’s 58th minute winner secured fifth place for Ireland from the women’s EuroHockey Championships in Belgium as they beat Russia 3-2.
It was far from vintage stuff, played at 9am on Sunday morning in Antwerp with the Wilrijkse Plein stadium bearing the hungover scars of the men’s hosts all-night party at the venue.
As such, a weary outlook was probably to be expected and it took nearly 20 minutes for the action to start in anger.
Ireland trailed 1-0 at half-time but three battling goals from Nikki Evans, Sarah Hawkshaw and Katie Mullan got them over the line in the end 3-2 despite corner goals from Bogdana Sadovaia and Aleksandra Leonova.
“It wasn’t a pretty one,” said match winner Mullan. “We knew Russia would come out and look to win the game. They made it really difficult for us; we were disappointed with how we started.
“All in all, it was good for us to grind out that result as we have done in the last two games to clinch the three points. Performance wise, you want to peak on the last day and I don’t think we did today.
“It was a 5.15am alarm which we are not used to. But, at the end of the day, we make no excuses. We have to prepare for all the different conditions.
“We wanted to perform our best at 9am this morning and prepared our best for that but didn’t quite execute on the pitch. We have to be really proud we ground it out. Credit to Russia, they were solid and caused us a few problems.”
After a quiet first 20 minutes with play mainly between the two 23 metre lines, the game burst into life in the latter part of the half. Katie Mullan managed to split the Russian centre-backs and deflect one of their passes at goal but Viktoriia Aleksandrina saved well. Nikki Evans put the follow-up wide.
Within a minute, Sadovaia scored her third goal in two games with a low corner push past Ayeisha McFerran’s stick side for 1-0.
Two good interchanges between Deirdre Duke and Mullan led to a couple of good chances which were not taken while Lizzie Colvin miscued when well placed on the half-time hooter.
Ireland equalised two minutes into the second half when Zoe Wilson’s long ball found Nikki Evans all alone at the top of the D. She took her time before eventually sweeping home in off a defender’s body.
And the Green Army went 2-1 ahead with 10 minutes to go from another long ball out, picking out Evans in the circle. She slipped the ball under her arm to Sarah Hawkshaw whose dummy sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Russia equalised for 2-2 in the 52nd minute from a penalty corner rebound from Aleksandra Leonova. Nicci Daly hit the post from an Anna O’Flanagan pass but they did get the lead back with three minutes to go when Mullan pounced on a loose ball behind the goalkeeper.
Overall, Mullan added it was a strong tournament for the Green Army. Ireland were a goal away – against England and Germany – from getting a semi-final spot for the first time. The group games, however, did see Ireland produce their best results against their respective opposition in the Euros.
“It’s the way the Europeans is; it is a really tough tournament. Lose one game and the best you can finish is fifth. We were disappointed not to reach the semi-final stage but as soon as that happened, we said we were going to go for fifth and so we are somewhat proud of that.
“The margins are so tight and, on a different day, we might have that semi-final. Really proud of the girls; we are ticking away nicely and looking to prepare now for the qualifier.”
For Sean Dancer, he largely concurred with that view, obtaining three wins, a draw and one defeat from his first event in charge but knows there is plenty to work on ahead of next October’s head-to-head qualifer.
“The first reflection is it is a very tough tournament,” he said. “It’s interesting being on this side of the fence on how it pans out. From a coaching point of view. It has highlighted a bit of consistency – the first game had we got a result, we probably would have been in the semi-final. That highlights where we need that consistency.
“This gives us a good opportunity to review our game and see where we are at in attack and defence. They will be the focus. In both circles, we need a bit more quality of action.”
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, A Meeke, D Duke, L Murphy
Russia: V Aleksandrina, S Salamatina, K Shumilina, K Koroleva, S Eroshina, A Kolpakova, M Bordolimova, M Drepenkina, B Sadovaia, A Leonova, E Sorokina
Subs: V Chepurnova, A Khalimova, I Cheplygina, D Yushkova, K Sanina, V Akeeva, A Iashina
Umpires: A Faias (POR), C Martin-Schmets (BEL)