Devastated Ireland earn late reprieve in Amsterdam

Graham Shaw’s side stay up despite losing heavily to Spain

 Maialen Garcia  of Spain in action during the Women’s EuroHockey Championships  classification match against Ireland at Amstelveen in Amsterdam. Photograph: Koen Suyk/EPA

Maialen Garcia of Spain in action during the Women’s EuroHockey Championships classification match against Ireland at Amstelveen in Amsterdam. Photograph: Koen Suyk/EPA

 

Spain 7 Ireland 2

From flattening devastation to the elation of a reprieve, the Irish women’s side somehow managed to stay in the top tier of European hockey despite a harrowing 7-2 loss to Spain in Amsterdam.

Graham Shaw was convinced his side was down, struggling to put words to explain a performance and tournament to forget in many senses.

But a shock 1-0 win for the already relegated and previously abject Czech Republic against Scotland in the next match on court meant Ireland scraped into sixth place with the Scots and the Czechs going through the trapdoor.

Shaw’s side arrived in Amsterdam with high hopes after a hugely encouraging 2017 that has Ireland on the brink of World Cup qualification for the first time since 2002.

But this week has seen them struggle to find any sort of mojo.

“We need to debrief the tournament and what went wrong because we just didn’t show the same quality, the same energy as we had throughout the year,” he said in the wake of the tie.

“This is two A divisions in a row now we have gone down and we need to see why its happening. The first place we look at is within ourselves but we are just very disappointed.”

A few hours later, the mood was upgraded as he admitted to being in shock, adding: “Isn’t sport incredible?”

Nonetheless, he says an in-depth review of what went wrong is needed to work out why performances were so low key.

“I don’t think we can be happy with any of our performances throughout the tournament if I am perfectly honest. We came here with far higher aspirations and it just did not click for us.”

As for the Spain tie, five goals in the closing 20 minutes provided a horrible end to the campaign. Needing a draw for safety, Ireland went behind after seven minutes to Cristina Guinea’s corner touch.

Anna O’Flanagan – on her 150th international appearance – equalised when Katie Mullan rescued a ball from going over the end line for a tap-in.

Spain, though, scored almost instantly with Maria Tost’s strike making it 2-1 at the break. O’Flanagan levelled in the second half with an impudent touch to Nikki Evans’s cross, her 58th international goal.

But once again Spain replied in under 100 seconds as Carlota Petchame was left all alone in the circle to make it 3-2.

From there, the wheels fell off with Lola Riera scoring twice with Marta Segu and Rocio Ybarra – with her last touch in international hockey – making it 7-2.

The Irish players left the field in tears, the dark spectre of relegation engulfing the mood. But the names of goalkeeper Barbora Cechakova and scorer Tereza Mejzlikova soon became their saviours with the prospect of top-level competition in 2019 back on the table.

IRELAND: G O’Flanagan, Y O’Byrne, K Mullan, S McCay, H Matthews, G Pinder, C Watkins, N Daly, A O’Flanagan, Z Wilson, D Duke. Subs: N Evans, E Beatty, S Loughran, R Upton, L Tice, A Meeke, C Cassin.

SPAIN: M Ruiz, R Ybarra, M Lopez, B Bonastre, C Cano, Maialen Garcia, J Pons, X Gine, B Perez, B Garcia, L Jimenez. Subs: C Petchame, C Salvatella, C Guinea, M Tost, L Riera, M Segu, Melanie Garcia.

Umpires: M Meister (Ger), K Alves (Fra)

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