Captain Megan Frazer believes Ireland’s World League 2 performances show how far they have come under Darren Smith’s tutelage.
The Ulster Elks star was named player of the tournament as the Green Army added to a fantastic sporting weekend for Irish teams by winning the WL2 tournament on home soil, requiring a shootout after a 1-1 final draw with Canada.
Nineteen-year-old netminder Ayeisha McFerran starred in the penalty one-on-ones with two saves, after a rip-roaring contest — in front of a packed Belfield crowd that included President Michael D Higgins — had ended honours even.
The goals came early in the second half, both from short corners as Nikki Evans’ reaction rebound for Ireland was cancelled out by a fine Holly Stewart deflection for the Canadians, whom Ireland had defeated 3-1 in the pool phase.
Irish defender Shirley McCay said the success ended a satisfactory week’s work for her side: “The level of our general play and our basics has improved hugely and I think we are very clear in our jobs which allows us to play with freedom and flow. It’s really enjoyable to play this way and we’re looking to build something special.”
It was job done by the time they got to the final, however, their minimum requirement for keeping their Olympic qualification dream alive. Ireland lost to Belarus during WL2 in 2013, early on in Smith’s reign, but on Saturday they trounced them 7-0 in the semi-final to emphatically shorten their road to Rio 2016.
That performance delighted Frazer, who praised her side for producing such a showing in a high-stakes game.
“We had spoken about picking up the speed and intensity throughout the tournament and hit the nail on the head. It’s something we will look to carry on further on in the future. It’s a great platform to build on,” she said.
“We obviously have some history with (Belarus) but we did this in a really professional manner. You can carry baggage against teams like that but we nipped that in the bud, gave them nothing, and got a clean sheet. It was a great performance.”
Ireland will find out this week where the next phase of the World League sends them, with Valencia looking the most likely venue.
Staying within Europe would be a big bonus in terms of cost-saving. The Irish men already received good news on that front in recent days as they are being sent to Antwerp in Belgium for WL3, having initially been thought to be headed to Buenos Aires.
Domestically, the semi-final lineup for the men’s Irish Hockey League was completed. Monkstown and Pembroke Wanderers advanced from Pool A after wins over Annadale (3-1) and Instonians (4-2), respectively.
Town will meet Three Rock Rovers in the semis, despite the latter’s 5-2 loss at Banbridge, who won Pool B and will take on Pembroke in the other semi-final.
Both Munster teams’ campaigns ended in defeat; Cork C of I going down 3-1 to Lisnagarvey while UCC were unlucky to lose 3-2 at Cookstown.
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