Deirdre Duke said it was like a home game when she propelled the Irish women’s hockey team to a first World Cup group stage win since 1986 with a pair of goals in a 3-1 win over a hotly fancied USA last Saturday in London.
The majority of the fans who made it to Lee Valley were sporting the green shirt and they saw a breathtaking performance as they belied their ranking to give their hopes of emerging from the group a big boost.
Speaking afterwards, UCD skipper Duke told the Dublin Gazette: “It was incredible. It really felt like we were playing in Dublin, so many green shirts in the crowd and its amazing to play in front of a crowd like. You don’t get that too often down in UCD on a Saturday!
“If we can play as well as we did against the US in the next two games, we should put ourselves in position to get into that crossover game. We are hugely proud of our performance.”
The former Kilmacud Crokes club woman scored just four minutes into the tie with one of her first touches of the game, firing home after latching onto Roisin Upton’s long ball out of defence.
Shirley McCay slapped in a second soon after before Margaux Paolino got the US back into the game from a penalty corner move.
But Duke sealed the deal when she was located by former UCD and Alexandra College team mate Nikki Evans from a ball across the D. The striker steadied herself before firing home from close range to send Ireland into dreamland.
It was the country’s first World Cup appearance since 2002 when they lost seven out of seven group matches. But there were few nerves for what was the biggest stage any of these players had played on.
In the anthems, the big screens portrayed wide grins and laughs as they soaked in the atmosphere with large pockets of green apparent.
There were no glares into the middle distance, no tears nor introspective closed eyes, thinking of the pain that had gone before to eventually reach this stage.
“Our motto is just ‘enjoy the tournament’,” two-goal hero Deirdre Duke said afterwards. “It’s a dream to score in a World Cup, even to play in a World Cup. We’ve never been here before, we are ranked 15th out of 16 teams. There’s no pressure. So if you can’t enjoy a moment like that, your national anthem with all your friends and family there, what’s the point!”
Next on their agenda is a Thursday game with India, the side they beat to qualify in the first place for the competition with a 2-1 win last summer. Win that and they will be assured of, at the very least, a place in the knock-out stages with either a last 12 crossover match or a quarter-final spot depending on how they do against England.