‘A dream come true . . . anything is possible’: ecstatic reaction to World Cup final place

Scramble to get to London starts as hockey fans prepare for Sunday’s historic game

Joyous scenes as hockey supporters at Railway Union Sports Club in Sandymount, Dublin and the Glenside Pub, Churchtown near the Loreto Hockey Club celebrate as Ireland Ladies qualify for the World Cup final. Video: Cyril Byrne / Ronan McCreevy

 

What price a place at the World Cup final? The cheers of relief and ecstasy had barely died down when Noreen O’Riordan, the Loreto Hockey Club fixtures secretary, was on the Aer Lingus app frantically trying to book overnight flights for Sunday’s world cup final in London.

The cheapest return was €350 plus and that does not include the price of a match ticket assuming you could even get one.

“People are frantically trying to arrange babysitters. There are very few people in the club left in Ireland. Most people have travelled over,” she said.

Hockey aficionados like herself have been struggling for superlatives while the rest of the non-hockey playing Irish public embraces arguably the sporting story of the summer - Ireland not only in a hockey world cup final but probably the first world cup final contested by an Irish team in a global sport.

Among the first to send his congratulations was the President, Michael D Higgins, who thanked the Irish team for their “incredible achievements” in the World Cup.

“The players, coach and support staff have overcome great difficulties, on and off the pitch, and have demonstrated what team spirit, skill and dedication can accomplish.

“We are all looking forward to a historic match on Sunday.”

The Glenside Pub was stuffed for Saturday’s semi-final against Spain. The pub in Churchtown near the Loreto ground is up for an award for the best place to “watch the match”.

All the heroes on the wall of the pub are male, Lionel Messi, Bryan Cullen, Joe Canning and the all-conquering Kerry football team of the 1980s to name a few, but the crowd was overwhelmingly female from seven to 70.

It is so rare at any sporting occasion to see male spectators outnumbered by women, but unprecedented things seem to be happening with this Irish women’s hockey team.

The Loreto club is one of the few all-female hockey clubs in Dublin and three are in the Irish squad - Ali Meeke, Hannah Matthews and Nikki Daly.

Their friends and supporters who gathered in the Glenside cheered the curse of the unexpected early goal and agonised for the next three quarters of an hour as Spain drew level, forced the game to extra-time, then to a penalty shoot and finally to sudden death.

“They can barely watch,” said commentator George Hamilton. Indeed they couldn’t. Somebody shushed the crowd and the eight seconds it took Gillian Pender to wriggle and turn her way around the Spanish goalkeeper and into the history books seemed like an aeon.

Ireland under-18 international Caitlin Sherin watched the match in the company of under-21 internationals Mia Jennings, Grace McLoughlin and Sarah Torrance, the non-playing reserve for the senior team.

Dressed in their Irish singlets, they embraced arm in arm as the penalty shootout drew to its agonising conclusion.

“We’re actually shaking,” said Caitlin. “All those girls standing up to take their one v ones are just incredible. I’m so proud of them.”

Mia Jennings said she never expected her club teammates, who are amateurs lest we forget, to be in a world cup final. “It’s unbelievable,” she said. People are using that word a lot.

Hilly Hardiman, who has been with the club, for 25 years expressed the same sentiments. “It’s beyond belief,” she said expect it isn’t. “There is such belief in the team. It’s a dream come through. I thought they would get out of their pool games and definitely give that quarter-final a good kicking.

“I went out to the first game against America and you realised that anything is possible with those girls.”

Watching from afar was the Loreto couch Paul Fitzpatrick who is in Portugal for a tournament. He texted: “It’s a reward for all the players, for the sacrifices they have made and for all the people who believed, who helped, who fundraised and volunteered. That’s the rewards of amateur sport, the closeness of knowing the players, knowing who they really are.”

The impossible becomes possible when the World Cup Final takes place at 4.30pm on Sunday in London. One Irish hockey fan tweeted to City Jet: “Can you please charter a flight for tmrw’s hockey world cup final - Dublin to London!have at least 50 ppl to fly over.”

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