Ireland overcome flashbacks of 2015 to reach Holy Grail – reaction to Olympic qualification

Chloe Watkins admitted “flashbacks of 2015 were coming into my head” as she stepped up for her vital shoot-out to keep Ireland’s Olympic hopes alive.

That most painful of memories, the one that denied a place at Rio 2016, were flooding back.

Trailing 3-2 with the final effort against Canada, a miss would have seen the dream die once more.

Chloe Watkins celebrates her shoot-out. Pic: Deryck Vincent

But she held her nerve – as she did last summer against India in the World Cup semi-final – twisting and turning to bamboozle Kaitlyn Williams to keep the tie going.

“I had to try to block out everything and what was at stake, think about just what I had to do,” she gasped. “There was no way we were going to leave it out there again. The game was tighter than we thought. Things never play out as you plan but we had so much heart, so much belief in ourselves and weren’t going to give up this again.”

Two minutes later, she was storming toward Ayeisha McFerran to celebrate and while a video review delayed things, the Tokyo ticket was assured.

“When you say it, it’s not even real. It’s completely surreal. We’re just over the moon, a dream come true and we now want to go for that medal in Tokyo.”

Shirley McCay – who hit the 300 cap mark in Saturday’s opening tie – concurred: “Very special, hard to put into words. We definitely wanted to make sure last summer wasn’t just a one-trick pony and prove we are good enough to get to an Olympic Games and we are just so proud to have done it.”

She also hailed the record crowd that came out to take in the spectacle, over 12,000 across two games.

“This is completely unique; it is so special. To have a home crowd last night and tonight in a rugby pitch in the middle of Dublin is so surreal. We can’t thank everyone enough for their support. We owe them so much.

“It was squeaky bum time for a few minutes but we know Ayeisha is so good and that is her bread and butter. So proud. She is a special girl, unique in so many ways and we trust her with our lives.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the team will have access to significantly increased funds as they plan their road to Tokyo 2020.

He was among the 6,137-strong crowd at Energia Park on Sunday to witness the side qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time.

Varadkar admitted he was jumping on the bandwagon, stating it was his first time watching the sport in 20 years since his sister played for Mount Sackville in her school days.

Shirley McCay – with her nephew – salutes the crowd. Pic: Deryck Vincent

“I hate to be political but Government has been putting money into women’s sport for a number of years,” he said. “It is paying off and we will continue to do that and give this team 100pc for Tokyo.”

Asked if that means a significant increase will be forthcoming if they ask for it, he replied: “They will be getting it too!”

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