While an Olympic play-off place was achieved, Ireland’s FIH Series finals campaign ended on a deflated note as Korea struck three times in the closing quarter to silence a soldout crowd at Banbridge.
Saturday’s semi-final 4-0 cruise against the Czech Republic ensured the week’s primary objective was in the bank – a two-legged contest in October with a ticket to Tokyo on the line. The value of this tie was to boost ranking points which would have increased chances of hosting that qualifier.
But Korea were a different foe to anything else Ireland faced this week as the cruise control of the last four outings was replaced by a dogged contest.
The step up in quality was evident early on with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was called on frequently in a cracking first half.
Ireland, for their part, were picking exquisite angles for their long passes with Roisin Upton and Shirley McCay’s vision a feature. From one, Chloe Watkins drew an incredible save from Soo Ji Jang while the Korean keeper also slid out to deny player of the tournament Anna O’Flanagan.
Upton had a goal ruled out from a penalty corner with Chloe Brown deemed to have obstructed the first runner in the 21st minute.
Both Upton and interim coach Gareth Grundie lamented the lack of video referral at this event and indeed it proved a crucial moment.
The third quarter initially saw Ireland dominate play before Korea stepped into overdrive taking a fourth-quarter lead when Hyunji Kim lifted over McFerran for the game's opening goal.
With four minutes remaining, Hyejeong Shin slipped in Eunbi Cheon to apply a first time finish. Ireland have fought back against Korea from worse positions, notably with two final minute goals at the 2016 Hawkes Bay Cup, and Nicci Daly’s effort gave hope with 85 seconds left.
Korea, though, had the final say when a pitch length overhead was missed by everyone except Jina Kang who finished into an open net.
It was Grundie’s last game in the role with Sean Dancer taking on the role for the Olympic qualifier to be played in October or November.
“It would have been nice to finish with a 100% record,” Grundie said of his time in charge. “The girls have been brilliant, very receptive and supportive as have the rest of the staff. I am looking forward to learning more from Sean in the build-up to the Euros in August. I'm back to assistant now!”
Earlier in the day, Ireland’s men lost their second group game at the FIH Series in Le Touquet, falling 2-1 to Egypt.
John Jackson had given the Green Machine a 19th minute lead with a touch at the left post, nicking in Shane O’Donoghue’s shot from a penalty corner.
But the Egyptians – ranked nine places below Ireland at 20 in the world – were sharp and direct, causing plenty of problems. They equalised in the 23rd minute via a Mohamed Adel drag-flick and then won it in the closing quarter when Ahmed Abd Elhakim flipped the ball over David Harte.
“We didn’t show up in the first half and that can’t happen,” coach Alexander Cox said. We’re massively disappointed but we are still in the tournament.” Ireland defeated Scotland on Saturday 4-2 with Eugene Magee firing home a double. It leaves them third in the four-team group going into their final game against Singapore tomorrow. Topping the group is now out of Ireland’s hands but they still have plenty to play for.
IRELAND: A McFerran, R Upton, K Mullan, S McCay, B Barr, C Watkins, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson.
Subs: C Brown, L Tice, G Pinder, S Hawkshaw, D Duke, A Meeke, E Buckley.
KOREA: S J Jang, Y Lee, H An, E Cheon, J Kang, E Cho, Y Lee, H Jang, H Cho, H Shin, S Lee Subs: J Seo, S J Choi, S Kim, E Yu, H Kim, S Kang, Y Choi.
Umpires: A Nicholson (NZL), J Wagatsuma (JPN)