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Irish make history by reaching first World Cup quarter-final

 

By John Flack

Ulster-born skipper Katie Mullan hailed her magnificent team-mates after the Irish women made glorious history yesterday by reaching the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time with a decisive 1-0 win over India in London.

Anna O'Flanagan's superb deflection from a penalty corner in the first half sent Graham Shaw's team into dreamland.

Against all the odds, they have won their pool with one game to spare - yet they were ranked to finish bottom and get an early flight home!

Ireland had to defend heroically for lengthy periods as India - ranked six places higher on the world ladder - forced Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran into several brilliant saves.

The players were understandably ecstatic as they danced jigs of delight on the pitch after the final hooter as U2's 'Beautiful Day' boomed over the PA.

In their two last appearances at the showpiece, in 1994 and 2002, Ireland didn't win a single group game, finishing 11th and 15th respectively.

Now they go straight into the quarter-finals, avoiding the play-offs, and with nothing to lose.

Following an opening 3-1 success over the United States on Saturday and yesterday's win over India, Ireland are likely to face either Korea, China or Italy in the last eight next week.

And judging by that trio's performances to date, the Irish have nothing too much to fear.

Before that, they play England in their final Pool B game on Sunday, knowing that they can relax and enjoy the occasion, with little at stake for Mullan's team.

The Ireland captain paid tribute to her players after the game.

"It's an amazing feeling and I am just so proud of this squad and what we did today and what we did against the USA," she said.

"All credit must go to the girls, their work rate and the defence were incredible.

"We play for those moments when we score goals and then defend as if our lives depended on it.

"There's a huge amount of self-belief and that counts for so much at these tournaments because the margins can be so fine.

"We've completely surpassed our ranking but there was a belief going into the tournament that we're better than 16 in the world might suggest, and we've proved that now.

"We had a really good game plan we believed in.

"For all of us this is a first World Cup. We go out with smiles on our faces because we want to enjoy it and that seems to be working at the moment."

O'Flanagan's goal came as early as the 13th minute from a penalty corner when she deflected Shirley McCay's sweep high into the net.

Dubliner O'Flanagan said: "It's absolutely incredible because, for so many years, we've been banging on the door at major tournaments, only to fall at the last hurdle.

"But with the pool we were drawn in, we knew we could get results and we've played to our potential."

While McFerran's saves were key, it was Pegasus ace McCay who was named player of the match after an inspirational display in defence.

McCay said: "Ayeisha had a fantastic game again and we are just ecstatic to have got through.

"It's all beyond our wildest dreams.

"We came here to get out of the group and to have done that with a game to spare and got into the quarter-finals is unbelievable.

"We're a really experienced group and we've been through a lot together and had many disappointments in the past so these moments are ones to savour," she added.

After last night's celebrations, it was back to the drawing board today as Ireland prepare for their final group game on Sunday against World No.2 England who have many Rio gold medallists in their squad.

Belfast Telegraph

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