Ireland finish on a high but have work to do before Olympics

Anna O’Flanagan positive that team can improve over the next few weeks

Anna O’Flanagan of Ireland celebrates with teammates during their European Field Hockey Championship win over Italy at the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen. Photo: Koen Suyk/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Anna O’Flanagan of Ireland celebrates with teammates during their European Field Hockey Championship win over Italy at the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen. Photo: Koen Suyk/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

 

Ireland 3 Italy 0

From Anna O’Flanagan’s attitude, Ireland are not about to compound the disappointment of a poor European Championships by papering over what came before their 3-0 win over Italy for a sixth-place finish.

The flaws that were apparent against the Dutch, Scotland, Spain and especially England need a serious fix before July 24th when they open their Olympic Games pool matches against South Africa.

For a team which targeted a semi-final and a qualification place in next year’s World Cup, neither came. They can point to fine margins but that’s what the European Championships is and always has been. In Tokyo it will be no different.

As it was, Ireland lost out on one of the four European semi-final places to Spain on goals for and were then beaten for a fifth qualifying place by the Rio Olympic champions England.

“A few things didn’t go our way for sure,” said O’Flanagan.

“Tournament hockey is a roller coaster and we certainly had more downs than ups. I think the girls will be okay going forward. We knew we could do well today and hopefully they recover well and we have a full squad to pick from.”

Against an inexperienced Italian side O’Flanagan, Ireland’s record goal scorer with 83, finally found sharpness in the second quarter. Her reaction to a deflected cross from Katie Mullan and slap in the air was her first of the tournament and too late to save the greater Irish cause.

Her second in the third quarter, again coming from the right from Sarah Hawkshaw and swept into an open goal was a classic hockey strike. The pity is it was the first time in the tournament that Irish players consistently used wide ball to work around the defence and cause havoc along the backline.

Zara Malseed’s third goal was another example of what Ireland had rarely managed. A hard ball in from Mullan onto the goalkeeper with Malseed putting her body on the line to work a deflection was really a reminder of what Ireland had failed to do.

Throughout the tournament those passes had been cut out or misplaced with little connectivity between midfield and forwards and also under the pressure of a high press between defence and midfield.

Too often hard ball won by defenders was given straight back, killing momentum and doubling the defensive workload. Ireland need better exits and have to respect the ball more. Giving away cheap possession killed them in earlier games, while the set piece did not function.

The good news is younger players like Hawkshaw, Malseed, Michelle Carey, Hannah McLoughlin and Sarah McAuley did well and gathered experience that will stand to them.

“We’ve been disappointed so far,” added O’Flanagan. “It was really important for us as a team to play well but also to win and score some nice goals. So nice to finish on a high.”

The team has 40 days to make the fixes before its first ever Olympic Games contest against a beatable South African side. More pressure but they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Ireland: A McFerran, Z Malseed, R Upton, N Evans, K Mullan, S McCay, L Tice, H McLoughlin, L Holden, S Hawkshaw, A O’Flanagan

Subs: M Carey, N Daly, H Matthews, D Duke, S McAuley, L Murphy.

Italy: S Montserrat, T Dalla Vittoria, I Sarnari, A Oviedo, A Moroni, S Maldonado, P De Biase, C Tiddi, S Puglisi, S Laurito, L Oviedo

Subs: E Munitis, A Ayala, F Carta, E di Mauro, C Aguirre, L Fernandez, L Caruso .

Umpires: I Makar (CRO), A Bogolyubova (RUS).

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