Ireland have what it takes to reach World Cup final, says 'best keeper in the game' Ayeisha
Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was the heroine of the hour in London last night as Ireland's women sensationally booked their place in the semi-finals of a hockey World Cup for the first time in the history of the sport.
The 22-year-old from Larne made three brilliant saves in a dramatic penalty shoot-out as Ireland defeated India 3-1 in the quarter-final after the teams had played out a scoreless draw in the regulation 60 minutes.
The Green Army, with six Ulster players in their squad, now play Spain in the last four tomorrow afternoon (2pm), with a place in the final against the Netherlands or Australia at stake.
It's the stuff that dreams are made of considering Ireland went into the tournament as the second-lowest ranked of the 16 teams.
McFerran, who was branded 'the best keeper in the game by winning penalty scorer Chloe Watkins, said: "I'm beyond ecstatic for the girls because they have just worked so hard for this and now we are in the semi-final of a World Cup. Words can't describe it.
"I knew I had the ability to do it. I had done my homework on the Indian players. It's all about staying calm and being patient in the eight seconds they have to try and score from the 23-metre line.
"I did the job and I'm very, very happy. We were able to get some video of them, so that helped. It's been a whirlwind journey.
"We're playing Spain for a place in the final of the World Cup, who would have believed it?
"I certainly can't. Bring it on. We've beaten them before and we can do it again."
"We knew we had the best keeper in the game" - Ireland hero Chloe Watkins is overwhelmed as her country make the #HWC2018 semi-finals. Historic. https://t.co/RNjIbfvUIT #RTEsport pic.twitter.com/pP9gmJLR35— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) August 2, 2018
Ireland lost on penalties in agonising fashion at the final stage of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, missing out on a place in Rio when they went down to China.
Team captain Katie Mullan was delighted at the way they redeemed themselves last night to erase the bitter memories of Valencia three years ago.
The Coleraine woman said: "We showed today we are a bigger team, a better team and a stronger team than the one that went to Valencia.
"The togetherness in this group of players is incredible, just amazing. It blows my mind every time we step on to a pitch."
“As for the shoot-out, I couldn’t have picked a better group of girls to step up and take the penalties,” added Mullan.
“It requires a huge amount of bravery and that’s what those girls showed. Ayeisha is just on another level.
“If you have to play one v ones it makes a huge difference because she is such an incredible goalkeeper and she deserves every accolade that’s going.”
Chloe Watkins showed a cool head to score the winning penalty but, even then, the celebrations had to be put on hold.
Ireland had to wait as India asked for a video referral to check if the ball had crossed the line before the eight seconds permitted for the taker to score had elapsed.
The Dublin woman said: “I felt in my head that it had gone over the line but it was a bit of an agonising wait but when the goal was awarded it was sheer ecstasy all round.
“It’s hard to put it into words to be honest. It’s just so, so sweet to get the win.”
Coach Graham Shaw could hardly hold in his emotions at the end.
“Incredible — I’m just so proud of this group of players,” he said.
“It was really difficult at times. India are a very good side but we dug so deep.
“To go to a shoot-out and bury some demons is also really important for us.
“In the shoot-out I felt if we could score two then we’d win because Ayeisha is an incredible goalie, she’s so difficult to score against.
“Compared to other nations, we have less resources, so a big thank-you to all who have helped fund us on this incredible journey.”
Sally Walton, former GB international, said: “You can argue that, on the balance of play, Ireland did deserve to win that game.
“They did not win a single penalty corner in that game, which is something they will have to look at for the semi-final.
“But Ireland into the semi-final of a World Cup, having not been to a World Cup in 16 years, is some achievement.”