The agony, the ecstasy, and the prolonged dread of the interminable video review

The agony, the ecstasy, and the prolonged dread of the interminable video review
Ireland players, from left, Nicola Daly, Roisin Upton, Bethany Barr, Chloe Watkins and Gillian Pinder celebrate winning the penalty strokes and qualifying for the Tokyo2020 Qlympic Games. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

For uninitiated members of the hockey bandwagon who joined in the last 18 months, they would be forgiven for thinking every contest ends in a shoot-out.

Seven days earlier, the men’s Olympic hopes went up in smoke in the cruelest of fashions while the women’s World Cup silver was defined by those eight-second runs against India and Spain.

Stretch back even further and 2015’s devastation in Valencia, losing to China by the width of a post with a place in Rio on the line has proven a relative year zero for the Green Army.

The agony, the ecstasy, and the prolonged dread of the interminable video reviews, the “Flashbacks from 2015 were coming into my head,” Chloe Watkins said of the moment she stepped up to keep the dream alive on Sunday.

“I was trying to block out everything and not think about what was at stake but when we found ourselves in a shoot-out, it was a case of ‘here we go again’.”

Anna O’Flanagan missed in that shoot-out in 2015: “We said we wouldn’t go there again, we wouldn’t do it to ourselves.

I don’t know what we would have done if we would have lost!

The striker, Ireland’s record goalscorer, was swapped out for this series having played a key role in last summer’s heroics in the endgame, something she really struggled to cope with.

“It is a totally different experience being back behind them. It was the most sick I have ever felt but I trust those girls so much and not only did they score, they did it from the tightest possible angles.

“Of course, Ayeisha [McFerran] stepped up again. When you are 3-1 down, it’s heart in mouth stuff but when you have the best goalkeeper in the world, it makes it that bit easier.”

Shoot-outs tends to render all that goes before as largely forgotten and that is probably the default position for many who took in last weekend’s double-header.

Indeed, O’Flanagan is sketchy on the details: “We knew it would be a cagey affair and we wanted to put it to bed a lot earlier than we did. There weren’t many chances from open play — I had maybe one in the first half — but it doesn’t matter how you get there once you do get there.

I did always think we would get a chance in the last minute or two and then maybe keeping them out. But once we go to shoot-out, we know we have a good crew there so I was happy out.

Her later nerves were scarcely apparent in the pre-game ceremony as her beaming smile adorned the big screen as she chatted to her mascot and waved to friends in the stands.

 Ireland captain Katie Mullan celebrates. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland captain Katie Mullan celebrates. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Her team cut a remarkably calm exterior and O’Flanagan said she still has to pinch herself when she compares nights like this to many of her experiences in the Irish set-up over the last decade.

“I enjoyed every second of it; it’s what is so important about it. We couldn’t go out and freeze — we had to play.

“You don’t know how these things are going to go – when you have been around for 10 years [like me], you need to enjoy each game as it comes because we don’t know what’s up next. And now we have another nine months in us at least now!

“It’s amazing that we have changed the game in Ireland, not only for hockey but setting records for Irish women’s sport in general and that’s what we want to do.

“We have to thank every single person for coming along, especially on Saturday. It was absolutely miserable and they kept singing in the lashing rain. They stuck with us and brought us through.”

Most of the team will be in party mode for the next few days but coach Sean Dancer is busy plotting next moves. Hockey Ireland got an extension to last week’s deadline for Sport Ireland funding applications to account for this outcome and Dancer wants to get the full programme sorted before returning to his base in New Zealand.

It’s been tough being away from my family for a long period of time; my wife and daughter are still back in New Zealand; my parents are in Australia so it is quite distant. I knew we had a big job to do here and a busy six months.

“We will get everything planned out in the next weeks, make sure we are on the front foot before I will have a nice break over Christmas to recharge. It’s part and parcel of what you have to get used to as an international hockey coach. It’s not easy by any means.”

For the players, it remains an outer-body experience for the moment but, now qualified, they don’t intend on sitting on their laurels.

“When you say it, it’s not even real,” Watkins adds. “It’s completely surreal. We’re just over the moon, a complete dream come true and we now want to go for that medal in Tokyo. There’s no reason why we can’t.”

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