Heartbreaking: Shirley McCay dejected after Ireland fall agonisingly short in history quest
Ireland 1 Germany 1
Ireland's women fell agonisingly short in their bid to reach the semi-finals of a European Championship for the first time when they had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Germany in Antwerp yesterday.
Instead it was the Germans who qualified for the last four with more than a little relief after surviving plenty of second-half pressure from the Irish, who can count themselves a tad unlucky not to have secured the win they needed to progress.
Ireland did have their opportunities to make history as they fought back after conceding an early goal to take the game to the Germans only to be denied by some resolute defending and good goalkeeping.
The Irish defended heroically when they had to, with Ayeisha McFerran in outstanding form between the posts, and looked threatening when they were on the attack.
Moments after saving a penalty stroke late in the game, McFerran was hauled off to give Ireland an extra outfield player, and in the remaining four minutes they laid siege to the German goal with Anna O'Flanagan coming desperately close to grabbing the winner.
But they were unable to get the goal they needed to deny the Germans the semi-final berth and now go into the relegation group along with Spain, Russia and Belarus.
Ulster's Shirley McCay, who was winning her 293rd cap, couldn't conceal her disappointment after the match in what will almost certainly be her last European Championship.
The Pegasus defender said: "We are absolutely gutted not to have won the game and we certainly had our chances to do just that.
"It was a great performance from the girls and it shows how much we have come on in the last year since the World Cup but it's heartbreaking all the same.
"But we haven't much time to feel sorry for ourselves with two important games to come and we'll be doing our best to make sure we finish as high as possible."
In yesterday's game, the Germans had the first opportunity when, in the seventh minute, Selin Oruz fired in a lofted shot which was palmed away by McFerran.
However, within 60 seconds, Ireland were caught on the hop when an overhead pass caused mayhem and Pia Maertens cracked home a superb backhand shot, giving the Larne woman no chance.
With 25 seconds of the opening quarter remaining, Ireland forced their first penalty corner and after McCay's initial shot had been saved, Sarah Hawkshaw converted the rebound for the equaliser.
Germany forced two more set-pieces in the space of five minutes but McFerran was equal to the task on both occasions.
Ireland had a decent chance to make it 2-1 five minutes before half-time but, after being set up by Katie Mullan, Nicci Daly's effort was stopped at point-blank range by German keeper Julia Sonntag.
McFerran made a terrific full-length save from Rebecca Grote's penalty corner piledriver in the 43rd minute and shortly before the end of the third quarter, McCay was again denied by the keeper at a set-piece.
Daly had a great chance to score in the 48th minute as Ireland launched a swift counter attack but, once again, Sonntag came to the rescue when she smothered the shot.
In the 56th minute, Germany were awarded a penalty stroke after the ball struck Lena Tice's body on the line but McFerran dived to her left to stop Nike Lorenz's effort from the spot.
O'Flanagan had a great chance to win it and put Ireland in dreamland when she latched onto Mullan's pass with two minutes left but the German keeper was quickly off her line to make the save.
Ireland's men, meanwhile, are in action today when they take on England in the relegation group before facing Wales on Saturday.
Ireland captain Jonny Bell said: "The Welsh seem to be playing well and England are always hard to beat, so we have a fight on our hands.
"But this team has performed at critical times in the past and I am confident that we will stand up again when it counts."
Results: Women: Pool A: England 4 Belarus 3, Ireland 1 (S Hawkshaw) Germany 2; Pool B: Netherlands 14 Russia 0, Belgium 0 Spain 1.
Today: Men: Pool C: Wales v Scotland (12.30pm), England v Ireland (2.45pm). Semi-finals: Netherlands v Spain (5pm); Belgium v Germany (7.30pm).