Ireland 0 Britain 2
Ireland’s hopes of reaching a quarter-final in their first Olympic Games was shattered by the Rio 2016 champions Britain at the Oi Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday night.
Playing back-to-back matches after losing 1-0 to India on Friday, Ireland needed to win the game by any score and with that would have squeaked into the top four from Pool A and qualified for the quarter-final stages.
Ireland were two goals better than India in the pool but three points behind. A win against Britain would have given Ireland six points to draw level with India and the goals would have looked after the rest.
But that was not to be on a humid and hugely emotional night in Tokyo as Britain shot off to a high-tempo start with Ireland forced to back pedal. After just two minutes Britain earned their first penalty corner.
Elena Tice on the line saw that safely away but it wasn't the end of British pressure as the opening quarter settled into Britain holding most of the possession and territory and asking questions of the Irish defence.
A couple more penalty corners were safely seen away by Ireland as they began to feel their way into a more attacking mode and by the end of the first quarter they began to exert intermittent pressure.
But Britain were consistently fast on the break and midway through the half earned a series of penalty corners. It was finally on the sixth penalty corner on 17 minutes that Susannah Townsend picked up a loose ball off goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran's pads after she had saved the first shot and volleyed in from a few feet out.
But Ireland grew from there and while they didn't earn any penalty corners, Nicci Daly whacked a nice reverse shot to force British goalkeeper Maddie Hinch to save Ireland's best effort of the half.
Ireland were let off just before the break when Isabelle Petter blazed a ball wide from the penalty spot but Britain went into the break knowing they were creating chances and 1-0 ahead.
What hurt Ireland deeply was the first minute of the second half when the ball was smashed on the backhand side across the goalmouth just a minute into the half.
It passed everybody but Hannah Martin lurking around the goalmouth, her perfectly timed half-volley deflection enough to beat McFerran to make it 2-0.
It was referred to the TMO for a possible back stick infringement but the video showed the goal was good and Britain kept their 2-0 lead.
"Look it was certainly a tough game. I was happy and pleased with the way we played," said Irish coach Sean Dancer. "I think we certainly stuck it to them.
“Obviously the scoreline was 2-0 and they had the better of the game but even going to the last quarter a couple of goals down I still thought we were in with a good opportunity. I’m just proud of the way we played today. We went out there to win it. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result but we did a lot of things right.”
Britain maintained that tempo to the end of the third quarter and into the fourth and while Ireland did penetrate their circle and sweep forward, they were troubled to sustain it for any length of time before Britain against broke out.
While Ireland in Tice, Hannah Mathews, Sarah McAuley, Róisín Upton, who shipped a yellow card at the end and the classy McFerran were tenacious in defence they were working in an environment of being constantly under pressure from a strong British side.
“I think it highlights why the Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport,” added Dancer. “It’s the top teams competing. It’s the end of the cycle of what everybody is trying to get to and peak.
“In the end everybody can beat everybody at the Olympics, so I think that the first thing knowing that you are always in with a shot and the second thing is the game against India, which was a game we targeted to win.
“Certainly being back-to-back against India yesterday and then GB it was going to be a tight turnaround. We always knew coming in this was going to be a tough couple of days for us.”
For several of the Irish players Olympic elimination is likely to be a pause or even the end of a journey that has taken them to an historic World Cup final in London in 2018 and a first Olympic Games.
For others such as McAuley, Sarah Hawkshaw, Zara Malseed, Sarah Torrans, McFerran and Tice they've many years ahead. With Paris in three years time, not only will they now have a taste but understand many of the demands of Olympic competition.