Kathryn Mullan (C) defends a penalty corner. Frank Uijlenbroek/Hockey IReland
Standing firm

Ireland start Olympic qualification campaign with hard-fought Belgium draw

Ayeisha McFerren was outstanding as Ireland doggedly held out for an important draw.

Ireland 0 

Belgium 0 

THE IRISH WOMEN’S hockey team began their campaign to qualify for the Paris Olympics with a hard-fought scoreless draw against Belgium. 

Belgium – ranked fourth in the world and silver medalists at last year’s European Championships – were favourites against 13th-ranked Ireland, but player of the match Ayeisha McFerren stood firm, supported by the stubborn Irish defence of Lena Neill, Hannah McLoughlin and Roisín Upton. 

Ireland conceded nine penalty corners in the first half alone, from which McFerren made several saves. Ireland enjoyed better possession after the break but did little with it: it wasn’t until the 40th minute that they forced their first penalty corner, with Belgian substitute goalkeeper Elode Picard untroubled by Chloe Watkins’ effort nor Beth Harper’s attempt on the rebound.

Neither side seemed capable of capitalising on having an extra player: Belgium had one player green carded in the thirty fourth minute and Ireland had three players green carded at different stages in the second quarter.

There was late drama: in the final six seconds Belgium looked for a video referral as they claimed the ball hit an Irish foot inside the semi-circle. The video referral was inconclusive so Belgium had to face a free out and, quickly, a final whistle for which Ireland were more grateful. 

“Belgium dominated the game, particularly the first half and are an excellent team”, said Irish coach Sean Dancer. “But we came into it a bit more in the third quarter and created a few chances. Ireland performed better in the second half.”

Next up for Ireland is a must-win game against Ukraine on Monday, followed by the final pool stage game against South Korea a day later. The group’s other game saw South Korea beat Ukraine 3-0. The top two sides in the group will qualify to the semi-finals, from where the top three sides book a spot at the Olympic games: the two finalists along with the winner of a play-off between the two beaten semi-finalists. 

IRELAND: Ayeisha Mc Ferren, Bethany Harper, Elena Neill, Hannah McLoughlin, Katie McKee, Sarah Hawkshaw, Charlotte Beggs, Katie Mullan (c), Deirdre Duke, Naomi Carroll SUBS USED: Niamh Carey (3 mins), Chloe Watkins (3 mins), Sarah McAuley (4 mins), Michelle Carey (7 mins), Sarah Torrans (7 mins), Róisín Upton (7 mins)

BELGIUM: Aisling D’Hooghe, Justine Rasir, Alix Gerniers, Judith Vandermeiren, Emma Puvrez, Louise Versavel, Vanessa Blockmans, Michelle Struijk, Héléne Brasseur, Stephanie Vandenborre, Charlotte Engelbert, SUBS USED: Elodie Picard (GK) [31 mins], Ambre Ballenghen (3 mins), Barbara Nelen, Camille Belis (4 mins), Lien Hillewaart (5 mins). Abi Raye (5 mins)

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