Another Olympic dream dies for Ireland

Gene Muller offered no excuses as a second Irish Olympic hockey dream went up in smoke within seven days when Belgium proved an all-round superior force in Kontich yesterday.

While the men went right down to the wire, this tie had little tension to it, Sofie Gierts killing it off with a stunning hat-trick inside 19 minutes.

From there, the remaining 50 minutes was a physical battle but Ireland’s inability to score from penalty corners – bar Audrey O’Flynn’s eighth of the tournament in the 57th minute – meant there was never any drama.

And Muller said it was a rough day for his young side against a Belgian outfit lower ranked in the world but flying high on confidence.

“Technically, we were not good enough today, didn’t score on our corners and couldn’t get back into the game and whenever we had a sight of it, we’d let in another one.”

Gierts – whose brother Eric played with Dublin club YMCA between 1999 and 2001 – got Belgium off to a dream start when she smashed home a brilliant volley in the 12th minute.

Muller questioned afterwards whether the striker had controlled it dangerously over her shoulder.

The Irish defence parted and she controlled deftly before applying a bullet to the bottom corner.

If that was contentious, the second goal was a travesty as umpire Amy Hassick pinged Ireland for a stick chop on Jill Boon. It looked a bad tackle but scarcely worthy of the penalty stroke which ensued.

Gierts roofed it with the minimum of fuss and two minutes later she swept home a simple penalty corner move from Stefanie de Groof’s disguised pass.

With 19 minutes gone the game was as good as over. Nikki Evans did put the ball in the net after a powerful baseline run but it was disallowed as the hosts looked more likely side to add to their tally than Ireland did of getting back into the contest.

When O’Flynn’s goal finally did come with 13 minutes to go, Belgium responded instantly as Erica Coppey volleyed home from close range within 60 seconds.

Where it leaves Ireland now remains to be seen as the girls in green reached a playoff for the Olympic Games for the first time while Muller oversaw a victory over a higher ranked side, Spain, for the first time in a major tournament.

“This team has improved enormously but there wasn’t enough in us; not technically, not physically so we could never create that tension,” he said afterwards.

But the manner in which Belgium dismantled an Irish side which has had more trained together more intensively than ever before in the past 18 months provides concern.

IRELAND: E Gray, N Symmons, S McCarthy, C Sargent, E Smyth, L Colvin, E Clarke, L Jacob, A Speers, A Connery, A O’Flynn Subs: M Harvey, S McCay, N Daly, N Evans, M Crowley.


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