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Thursday 14 November 2019

McFerran saves day as Ireland women are shoot-out queens

Ireland 0-0 Canada (0-0 agg, Ireland win 4-3 on pens)

Spot on: Róisín Upton
Spot on: Róisín Upton

Ireland's shoot-out queens guaranteed a very first women's appearance at the Olympic Games as Ayeisha McFerran added to her place in hockey folklore with three vital saves when all looked lost.

The reverse parallels with the men's ignominious exit seven days ago at the hands of the same opposition were huge.

After two hours of scoreless hockey, the shoot-out looked to be heading the visitors way with Canada 3-1 up with two rounds to go.

McFerran, though, saved everything that came her way while Beth Barr, Chloe Watkins and Róisín Upton showed nerves of ice to win the day 4-3 in sudden death.

Straight

It puts them straight through to Tokyo 2020 without recourse to the machinations of the South African Olympic committee who had offered a fall-back option of sorts had this game gone south.

But these showdowns were the making of the Green Army last summer, the glorious dismissals of India and Spain highlighting the road to World Cup silver and while the two fixtures this weekend were largely forgettable, the finale will be another indelible memory.

It was all witnessed by over 12,000 fans - 6,086 on Saturday, 6,137 last night - record crowds for international team sport events in Ireland.

Those crowds offered perfect justification for the decision to bring the drop-in pitch to Energia Park in Donnybrook.

Opening night had been an exercise in frustration, the Dublin deluge leaving the pitch coated in water, making any sort of free-flowing hockey unmanageable. It made for a relatively chanceless 0-0, leaving everything on game two.

The second night, played in cooler but, crucially, drier conditions were far more conducive to a decent show and the show was far better entertainment.

After a couple of Anna O'Flanagan pot shots, Katie Mullan cleaned up Maddie Secco's golden chance behind Ayeisha McFerran from a Canadian penalty corner in the opening quarter.

Underdogs

The visitors, the underdogs ranked 15th in the world, were looking the more composed with Natalie Sourisseau's elegance in midfield driving things while Amanda Woodcroft controlled the centre of defence.

It left Ireland going increasingly long and hopeful with Kaitlyn Williams untested between the posts.

Canada's more aggressive press - having been ultra-defensive in game one - caused plenty of consternation but also little joy in the circle as Lena Tice bossed the D.

Ireland's best opening came from their second penalty corner early in the final quarter but Roisin Upton's drag-flick was charged down.

Canada, for their part, had two corners in the final 30 seconds after Tice was pinged for a deliberate slow-down of play.

In a clinch, Ireland came through with two big blocks to safety and they duly used that reprieve in perfect fashion.

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