Deirdre Duke’s glorious double helped Ireland’s women to a sensational win over the USA in Saturday’s Hockey World Cup opener in London.
It was Ireland’s first appearance in the World Cup in 16 years and their first win in the group stages of the competition since 1986.
Facing a fancied world number seven American side who finished the last edition in fourth, it was a breathtaking performance, marked by its tactical astuteness as much as the psychological player-management of coach Graham Shaw.
Shaw’s first job was to diffuse any tension in his panel ahead of what was the biggest game of their careers with the recurring mantra on “enjoying the occasion”.
The message got through; Roisín Upton showed no fear in launching an 80-metre pass from circle to circle in the fourth minute.
It found Duke all alone moments after her introduction from the rolling subs bench but she showed no nerves in her control of the bouncing ball and worked an angle to clip home from the right of the circle.
Ireland top the Pool ahead of England and India, who could only draw their earlier game pic.twitter.com/BihKMBujAL— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) July 21, 2018
The move typified where the openings would be for Ireland. The US are known for their physicality and their helter-skelter press, swarming forward in numbers, but once the first line is broken, opportunities abound and coach Shaw sent runners far and wide for quick long-balls.
Gillian Pinder was finding plenty of space, too, and she won the game’s first corner — it may have warranted more serious punishment — but it gave the chance to Shirley McCay to slap in the second, sending the pockets of green support around Lee Valley into delirium.
Reality bit two minutes later when Margaux Paolino guided in Michelle Vittese’s cleverly worked corner move for a 2-1 margin at the first quarter break.
Katie Mullan probably should have restored the two-goal gap but she controlled when a first time effort would surely have left goalkeeper Jackie Briggs no chance.
The US, though, were forcing turnovers at regular intervals and it required the crossbar and some tidy Ayeisha McFerran padwork to keep Ireland in front going into half-time.
Ireland were rejuvenated by the break and Mullan twice went close before the game-breaking moment. The US were aggrieved they were not awarded a long corner and not set up for Ireland taking a quick free out; within a couple of passes, Nikki Evans was tearing down the right in a four on two. Duke was waiting in the middle where she slipped out of an Ali Froede before bashing through from close range.
From there, no panic stations — something Shaw pin-pointed as one of the proudest parts of the performance — as bar one spectacular McFerran save from Caitlin van Sickle. The US were stymied at every turn around the D and Ireland had a famous win. Another one on Thursday against India and progression to the knockout stages will be assured.
USA: J Briggs, M Gonzalez, M Vittese, J Funk, A Magadan, J Young, L Moyer, A Froede, K Sharkey, C van Sickle, A Manley.
Subs: E Matson, S Fee, A Hoffman, N Woods, T Vittese, M Paolino, L Blazing.
IRELAND: A McFerran; Z Wilson, H Matthews, S McCay, R Upton; G Pinder, C Watkins, L Colvin; K Mullan, N Evans, A O’Flanagan.
Subs: Y O’Byrne, M Frazer, L Tice, N Daly, D Duke, A Meeke, G O’Flanagan.
Umpires: K Hudson, M Meister.