Ireland keep Olympic hockey dreams alive after 3-1 win over Korea

Ireland will play the hosts Spain on Thursday afternoon with the winner guaranteeing a slot in Paris 2024

Ireland’s Olympic qualifying hopes are alive and kicking after a superb 3-1 win over Korea in Valencia on Tuesday evening earned them a place in the semi-finals of the tournament and kept them on track for the top three finish required to book a slot in Paris this summer.

Hosts Spain will be their opponents on Thursday afternoon (11.30am), the prize for the victors in that game not just a place in the final, but also Olympic qualification. The losers will battle it out for the last remaining qualifying slot in Saturday’s third place play-off where they will come up against Belgium or Britain.

Beating the higher ranked Spanish (8), Belgians (4) or Britain (7) will be a tall order for Ireland, who are 14th in the latest world list, but they’ll take a mountain of confidence from an excellent pool campaign which they completed with an outstanding display against another side ranked above them.

After a scoreless first half, two second quarter goals from player of the match Sarah Hawkshaw and Deirdre Duke sent Ireland on their way to victory, when only a draw was required to hold off Korea’s challenge in the pool.


Hawkshaw was picked out on the right post by Hannah McLoughlin from Ireland’s second short corner of the game, the Railway Union player diving to brilliantly deflect the ball past the Korean goalkeeper.

And Duke produced the deftest of finishes nine minutes later when her dummy wrong-footed the ‘keeper before she nudged the ball home from the narrowest of angles on the left.

Until then it had been a game of cat and mouse, but the Koreans, in need of a win to reach the semi-finals, could find no way through an Irish defence in which McLoughlin and Roisin Upton shone.

A measure of just how disciplined that defence has been so far in the tournament is that Belgium, who topped the pool on goal difference, scored 23 goals in total against Ukraine and Korea, but failed to score one in their opener against Ireland.

Hyejin Cho finally broke that resistance when she pulled a goal back for Korea in the fourth quarter, but Upton soon extinguished their hopes of a comeback when she converted a penalty stroke six minutes from time after Hawkshaw had been stick-tackled while winding up for a shot on goal.

Ireland had started the game the brighter, Hawkshaw the driving force behind most of their best work, but clear cut chances were rare enough, Naomi Carroll coming closest to scoring in the early stages when she forced the Korean goalkeeper in to a smart save from her reverse strike.

Ayeisha McFerran was largely untroubled, apart from having to pad away the occasional pot shot, her defence giving her a quiet enough evening. A flurry of green and yellow cards late on gave Korea a player advantage at times, but they were never able to put it to good use, Ireland playing a smart possession game, while being clinical with their chances. They’re in good shape.

The Irish men’s task when they take on Japan in their final pool game on Wednesday evening (6.15pm) is identical to the one faced by the women - a draw will be enough to secure their place in the semi-finals and would give them a shot at qualifying for their first Olympics since 2016 in Rio.

Ireland: A McFerran, R Upton, N Carey, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan, H McLoughlin, N Carroll, E Curran, C Beggs, K McKee, B Harper. Subs: S McAuley, M Carey, S Torrans, E Neill, C Watkins, D Duke.

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times