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Ireland stunned by Korea in front of sold-out Banbridge crowd

Gareth Grundie’s side suffered a 3-1 defeat in Sunday’s FIH Series final.

Ireland 1
Korea 3

Ryan Bailey reports from Havelock Park, Banbridge 

A FORGETTABLE END to an otherwise excellent week for Ireland. 

At least the serious business had been taken care of, and that, in turn, may have contributed to this shock defeat, but there could be no hiding the bitter disappointment at a sold-out Havelock Park. 

Nobody quite saw this result coming, as Gareth Grundie’s side were caught out by a brave and technically excellent Korean outfit, who stunned the tournament hosts to clinch the FIH Final Series title.

pe_00806127 Ireland suffered their first defeat of the campaign on Sunday. Source: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

Ireland had already assured themselves of an Olympic play-off tie later this year but they were desperate to finish the job here, only to fall somewhat short in their first significant test of the campaign.

It was an absorbing contest in Banbridge, with both sides creating chances, but it was Korea — ranked 11 in the world — who ultimately forced the issue by striking twice in the final quarter.

Ireland pulled one back with one minute and 15 seconds left through Nicci Daly, but in their search for a dramatic leveller, over-committed and conceded a third in the dying embers. 

The World Cup finalists were guilty of giving possession up too easily and when they found themselves behind, couldn’t reverse the momentum to summon the necessary response. 

This defeat should not detract from the efficiency in which Grundie’s side had achieved their primary objective, and that was to finish in the top two and give themselves a shot at qualification for Tokyo 2020, but this performance gives them plenty to think about moving forward. 

New head coach Sean Dancer, in attendance here all week, will now take over from Grundie and this afternoon will have been more informative than any of Ireland’s emphatic victories earlier in the week. 

Losing out on valuable world ranking points in their quest to earn home advantage for the Olympic play-off tie is more damaging for Ireland than missing out on lifting silverware. 

Striker Anna O’Flanagan, who scored six goals, was awarded player of the tournament but Ireland’s clinical edge escaped them in the decider, and that was ultimately the difference between the sides. 

With conditions far more conducive to Ireland’s attacking and fast-paced style of play, the opening quarter set the tempo for a lively affair, and produced a number of goalscoring chances.

Ayeisha McFerran was pressed into action early on as space opened up for Enubi Cheon after Hyejin Cho’s crash ball inside, but the Ireland goalkeeper was equal to the task, kicking the effort to safety. 

pe_00806134 Ireland wave to the crowd after the anthems. Source: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

At the other end, Ireland’s aggressive pressing yielded their first sight of goal. Chloe Brown, in for the injured Megan Frazer, stole possession deep inside Korean territory and Deirdre Duke was picked out by Shirley McCay from the right, but the forward’s shot was deflected wide.

Moments later, Roisin Upton’s pinpoint ball out of defence bypassed the congested midfield zone and found the unmarked Chloe Watkins, who drove towards goal only for Ji Soo Jang’s outstretched right foot to deflect behind.

Ireland continued to create opportunities — O’Flanagan had the latest after Duke’s ball from the right — but the hosts were forced to scramble at the other end, with McFerran showing all her worth with a superb penalty-corner save from Korean captain Hyoju An.

Suddenly, Korea were asking more questions of Ireland than any other team in this tournament, as Upton and then Lena Tice were required to make important defensive interventions as the world number 11 side grew in stature. 

Still, free-scoring Ireland always looked likely in the red zone and, although denied the same levels of possession they enjoyed en route to the final, picked holes in the Korean defence from deep.

Upton appeared to have broken the deadlock from a well-worked set-piece, as Brown acted as the pivot in a spin move, but it was correctly ruled out after the latter inadvertently blocked one of the Korean runners. 

Another defence-splitting pass, this time from the stick of McCay, opened up the space for Gillian Pinder, who in turn reversed it for Daly, but cramped for room, she saw her effort comfortably saved by the goalkeeper.

Ireland applied further pressure upon the restart for the second half, but aggrieved they were not awarded a penalty corner at one end, very nearly conceded down the other as Tice kept it scoreless with an excellent block on the line.

pe_00806128 Anna O'Flanagan in action for Ireland. Source: Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

The see-saw nature of the contest continued apace, with Korea doing all the running in the third quarter, as Ireland were guilty of giving possession away all too easily — and they paid the ultimate price with 15 minutes left on the clock.

Straight from the tip-off at the start of the fourth quarter, Ireland, again, squandered the ball on their left and Hyunji Kim, unmarked on the end line, drove towards goal and finished past the advancing McFerran from a tight angle. 

Mullan gathered her troops in a bid to rally them in the search for an equaliser but it was Korea, playing with confidence, who threatened again, this time McFerran padding away a dangerous drag-flick.

Ireland’s response eventually arrived but, in their desperation, lost their attacking shape and searched for the direct route all too often, rather than remaining calm and working it through the midfield outlets.

When they did win a penalty corner, McCay’s slap from the top of the circle was defended expertly from the Koreans, and then they struck superbly for an insurance score through Eunbi Cheon.

Daly’s goal set up a grandstand finish but Korea weren’t to be denied as they sealed a memorable win.

IRELAND: Ayeisha McFerran (GK), Roisin Upton, Shirley McCay, Katie Mullan (captain), Beth Barr, Chloe Watkins, Lizzie Colvin, Hannah Matthews, Nicci Daly, Anna O’Flanagan, Zoe Wilson. 

Subs: Emma Buckley (GK), Chloe Brown, Lena Tice, Gillian Pinder, Sarah Hawkshaw, Deirdre Duke, Ali Meeke.

KOREA: Ji Soo Jang (GK), Yurim Lee, Hyoju An (captain), Enubi Cheon, Jina Kang, Eunji Cho, Yuri Lee, Heesun Jang, Hyejin Cho, Hyejeong Shin, Seungji Lee.

Subs: Youbin Choi (GK), Jungeun Seo, Ji Su Choi, Seona Kim, Eunyoung Yu, Hyunji Kim, Suyeong Kang.

Umpires: Andrea Nicholson (South Africa) and Junko Wagatsuma (Japan).

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Ryan Bailey

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