Last-gasp heartbreak for gallant Ireland but dream is still alive
The Ireland women's hockey team were a mere second away from securing a first ever win over Germany in a competitive tournament but had to settle for a 2-2 draw in an incident-packed World League 3 clash in Johannesburg yesterday.
Inspired by Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran's heroics, Graham Shaw's team led twice and looked set to hang on after going 2-1 up with just 44 seconds remaining but the former Olympic and World champions snatched a point in controversial circumstances with the last play.
Ireland, who were down to 10 players at the time, claimed in vain that they hadn't been given the mandatory 40 seconds to organise themselves at a penalty-corner, which was sent into the net for the equaliser.
In a last throw of the dice, the girls appealed that a German had encroached into the circle before the ball had been injected, which would have led to a retake.
However, after the umpires agreed to a video referral, there was no such evidence.
Shaw also remonstrated with the officials after the game and his frustration was clear.
However, in the cold light of day, even a draw against a side that won bronze at the Rio Olympics will be viewed as an outstanding result.
Shaw said: "I thought the girls executed the game plan brilliantly and worked incredibly hard, putting in a monumental effort and making it very difficult for the Germans."
McFerran had one of her best games in an Irish shirt, making countless saves, and she had mixed emotions. She said: "It was a pity we couldn't hang on but I think we have proved that we are capable of competing well against any of the teams.
"We had three players sin-binned at various stages which didn't help but these things happen when you're under pressure."
Ireland's initial target is to finish in the top four in their pool and make the quarter-finals which would keep their dream of World Cup qualification alive and a win over Poland tomorrow (1pm UK time) would be enough.
Ulster's Zoe Wilson gave Ireland a 14th-minute lead from a deflected penalty corner before Amelie Wortmann finally beat McFerran with four minutes left.
Then, with the clock ticking down, Nicci Daly's incisive run allowed Anna O'Flanagan to set up Deirdre Duke, who made it 2-1 before Nike Lorenz hit that last-gasp equaliser.
Meanwhile, Ireland's men continue their campaign tonight at the same venue when they face Olympic silver medallists Belgium (5pm) looking to make it two wins from two.