Scramble for hockey tickets as Ireland stick it out

Proud day for squad of players who pay a levy to supplement their funding

Ireland hockey players Nicola Evans, Yvonne O’Byrne,  Zoe Wilson, Katie Mullan and Hannah Matthews celebrating their quarter-final win over India on Thursday. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Ireland hockey players Nicola Evans, Yvonne O’Byrne, Zoe Wilson, Katie Mullan and Hannah Matthews celebrating their quarter-final win over India on Thursday. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

 

Before this week many of the Irish public might have thought short corners were something dodgy tradesmen cut to finish the jobs more quickly.

But now, many people are experts on hockey as the country embraces the unlikely story of the Irish women’s team marching to the semi-final of the World Cup in London.

Their penalty-shoot win against India on Thursday evening attracted a large audience, according to RTÉ, although the station was awaiting official figures on Friday evening, and the figure is likely to be higher on Saturday for the semi-final against Spain. This will be followed just 24 hours later by either the World Cup final or the third place play-off.

If bandwagon-jumping was an Olympic sport, Ireland would be on the podium every time. But the remarkable journey of this team of amateur players – they were the lowest ranked side going into the tournament – has provoked some last-minute changes of plan.

Loreto

“Literally as the last penalty was taken, there were two or three people with flights holding on their phones who pressed ‘purchase’ when Ireland won,” said Noreen O’Riordan, fixture secretary at Loreto Hockey Club, which is based in Rathfarnham, Dublin.

The club has three players on the Irish squad that has reached the semi-final: Ali Meeke, Hannah Matthews and Nicci Daly.

The Glenside Pub in nearby Churchtown will be the focal point over the weekend for those from the club who are not travelling to London.

The rest, including Meeke’s mother, Adie, are in London for the match.

“We are getting well-wishes from people who have never watched a hockey game in their lives. Everybody’s phone has been hopping,” Adie said. “They have been great ambassadors for their sport.”

She says all the extended families of the squad members have made it to London for the match and there is now a scramble for tickets, abetted by the fact that many of the countries that expected to be playing in the semi-finals have returned home and handed back their ticket allocations.

Ali Meeke coaches hockey at the High School in Rathgar and is studying for a masters in strength and conditioning. However, her mother says she is a “rank amateur”, much like her team-mates.

The Irish group, who are asked to pay a levy of €550 a year to supplement their funding, have been pitted against professional teams who have been together for 12 to 18 months.

“Most of them are a cross between college students and those who work full time. It is their own free time to give up to play for their country,” Adie explained.

Uplifted

Saturday will be a proud day for the Loreto club’s coach, Paul Fitzpatrick, who knows all the Irish squad from club games and under-age hockey.

“Irish people love supporting each other. We are a nation that loves sports and we are always willing to converse about sport,” he said. “For the ladies to do well is good for the nation. We are always uplifted by success.”

Irrespective of the result in London, an Irish women’s team will play in a World Cup final this weekend. The international over-50s team will play Australia in the masters final in Spain tonight.