Sothern and O’Flanagan lead double celebrations

by Stephen Findlater

SHANKILL’S Alan Sothern scored the crucial goal that saw the Irish men’s hockey team qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1990 as they continue to push the boundaries for the sport.
Sothern also scored a crucial goal in the Olympic qualifying process when Ireland beat Pakistan in a 1-0 victory and he repeated the feat at last Saturday’s World League Semi-Final, landing the goal that beat New Zealand to ensure a fifth place finish at the competition.
It was the first time Ireland had ever beaten the blacksticks in 13 attempts and means Ireland will go to the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India.
Sothern was joined in the team by fellow Dubliners Shane O’Donoghue, Stephen Cole, Stuart Loughrey and Jamie Car.
“It was a win built on character and defence,” coach Craig Fulton said of the performance. “We wanted to come away with qualification and that’s really pleasing, it was a great squad effort.”
Ireland started well with Shane O’Donoghue drawing a top block from Richard Joyce early on before having to endure sustained kiwi pressure. Hugo Inglis rattled David Harte’s near post with an absolute rocket in the first half while Hayden Phillips put a gilt-edged chance wide after the big break.
By that stage, their numbers had been trimmed further with Eugene Magee going off with an ankle injury, joining John McKee – a broken collar bone victim – on the sidelines.
Harte produced a double save as Ireland threw bodies on the line at regular intervals to protect their clean sheet before nabbing their winner with 11 minutes to go.
Chris Cargo’s cross was booted away by goalkeeper Devon Manchester but only as far as Sothern and the poacher supreme flicked in his third goal of the tournament.
From there, they showed the battling defensive qualities that served them so well against France two days earlier to get them over the line and into the World Cup.
Earlier the same day, the Irish women got a huge boost in their World Cup qualification bid when Railway Union’s Grace O’Flanagan came off the bench to make a crucial penalty save in a 2-1 win over India.
That turning point, though, came when number one goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was sent for a ten-minute suspension. O’Flanagan’s first act was to save Rani Rampal’s penalty stroke to prevent India going 2-0 up after Gurjit Kaur’s early opening goal
“It was some way to come onto the pitch and not how I expected!” O’Flanagan said afterwards. “The girls put in a superb effort throughout the match. I think we dominated throughout and I think we deserved it.”
Her coach Graham Shaw agreed: “The performance from the first minute to the last was superb,” he said.
“The dominance didn’t show in the first half but this team showed incredible character to go down to ten men and create so many chances. We showed that resilience to keep fighting and eventually getting too great goals.”
The side featured a large Dublin-based contingent with goalscorers Lizzie Colvin (Loreto) and Katie Mullan (UCD) turning the game around in the closing quarter.
They lined out with Hermes-Monkstown’s Nikki Evans, Anna O’Flanagan, Chloe Watkins and Sinead Loughran, UCD’s Deirdre Duke, Lena Tice and Gillia Pinder, Loreto’s Hannah Matthews, and Muckross’s Nicci Daly.
In terms of the World Cup, they must now await the outcome of the continental championships over the next few months but odds are in their favour that Ireland will make the final cut.
“It’s huge. This team deserve it,” Shaw added. “There is no better group of girls. They work incredibly hard on a small budget; they are part-time, working full-time and so deserve everything they get.”

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