Ireland dig deep to seal World Cup spot

Irish hockey had a Saturday to savour as the men guaranteed their place at the 2018 World Cup while the women have to wait a few months but look well set to match their efforts.

For the men, Alan Sothern’s strike 11 minutes from time in the World League fifth place play-off under the Johannesburg Saturday night lights proved the decisive score.

It provided a 1-0 win over New Zealand, the first time Ireland had ever beaten the world number eight side in 13 attempts and brought with it the last automatic ticket to India 2018. It means they will contest the elite event for the first time since 1990.

While their path to the World Cup was probably already assured by virtue of Friday’s win over France, the result meant Ireland got to savour their success and not wait on the outcome of any outstanding continental championships as they had to in the Olympic qualifying process for Rio.

Similar to the French game, it was a result built on dogged defence with Craig Fulton’s side spending much of the game on the back foot.

But David Harte made numerous saves while Hugo Inglis’ smashed the post to frustrate the Blacksticks while Ireland took their one big chance of the second half.

“The shift the guys put in was absolutely fantastic,” defender Jonathan Bell said of afterwards. “It wasn’t the prettiest hockey but that doesn’t matter because we are through to the World Cup!”

Earlier in the day, the Irish women overcame adversity to beat India 2-1 with late goals from Katie Mullan and Lizzie Colvin and land seventh place in their tournament.

After a lively start, Irish hopes were dented when Gurjit Kaur scored against the run of play. Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was then given a ten-minute suspension in conceding a penalty stroke before half-time.

Grace O’Flanagan emerged from the bench to save the ensuing stroke with her first touch of the tournament, limiting the damage.

Once restored to the full complement, Ireland bossed the play and eventually broke through with 13 minutes to go when Mullan slid onto Lena Tice’s pass to equalise. Within a minute, Colvin was firing home the winner from a corner and they held their lead with relative comfort. The result puts them third on the reserve list for the World Cup. As such, they must wait for the outcome of the continental championships and hope the winners of those already have secured their qualification via the World League, freeing up further spaces.

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