O’Flanagan’s brace means the Worlds fih women’s hockey european world cup qualifier Ireland 2 Wales 0
RATHGAR’S Anna O’Flanagan’s poacher’s double propelled the Irish women to a second successive World Cup appearance, cruscially firing home the winner with 11 minutes to go against Wales in Pisa.
It saw Ireland grind out the win – and the place at the 2022 showpiece – against a physically robust Welsh outfit who were this tournament’s surprise package and made life exceptionally difficult throughout.
The Green Army had hit the front early on courtesy of O’Flanagan through a lovely team move featuring Lena Tice and Sarah Torrans. Wales levelled, though, before the end of the first quarter through Isabelle Howell from a well-worked penalty corner. That set up an incredibly tense middle phase with both side enjoying spells in control. But the game opening up in the closing quarter when Wales were reduced to nine players with Phoebe Richards and Emily Rowlands going to the sin-bin. In their absence, Zara Malseed intercepted wide on the left and utilised the extra space to bounce an inviting pass to O’Flanagan who smashed home on the volley.
Ireland duly held Wales at arm’s length for the remaining minutes to finish off a huge week’s work, backing up wins over France and Belarus to take the one ticket on offer to the main event which will be played in Amsterdam and Valencia next summer. “What just happened here is a huge moment for the legacy of this team, continuing to build on the success we have already had,” captain Katie Mullan said in the aftermath.
“We knew it would be a defining moment. It wasn’t pretty but it shows the character within our group to come away from the game with a win from such a tough battle. Credit to Wales, they put on a big performance and took us right to the end.” The tournament followed a gruelling schedule in 2021 with June’s European Championships followed by the Olympics and then less than 12 weeks to regroup with a new look panel for this competition.
“We’ve played three tough tournaments in one year at international level with the Euros, the Olympics and this qualifier. It is pretty unheard of so it was always going to be a tough ask after the Olympics to bring the group back together to come here and do the job. “I am so proud of us for doing that. Now, we have another amazing tournament to look forward to and prepare for. This group needs to be going to major tournament after major tournament. This was the first roadblock after 2018 and this is a massive achievement. “It may not seem like it is bigger than some of what we have done in the past but, for our sport, to continue to grow the way it has and to continue to inspire the next generation, it was so important for us.
“I have no doubt the players who have stepped away and retired in recent weeks will be the most happy watching it today, seeing us get over the line because they will be the ones in the stands next summer supporting us.” Captain Mullan paid tribute to O’Flanagan’s goalscoring heroics while also saying the new faces played a vital role with Niamh Carey popping up with Saturday’s winner against Belarus and the likes of Ellen Curran, Erin Getty and Kilpatrick also making their tournament debuts.
“Anna showed today why she is a world-class forward, the best forward to come through Irish women’s hockey. She fronted up today when the pressure was on. She deserves this moment of elation.”
Ireland captain Katie Mullan is presented with the award for Qualifying to FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup
Main Image: Anna O’Flanagan is congratulated by team-mates Zara Malseed (right)and Sarah Hawkshaw (centre) after scoring her side’s second goal during the FIH Women’s World Cup European Qualifier Final match between Ireland and Wales at Pisa in Italy.
Photo: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile
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