Ireland toast World League 2 glory in Dublin

Ireland's Aine Connery kept her nerve to hit a crucial penalty
Ireland's Aine Connery kept her nerve to hit a crucial penalty

Ireland won the World League 2 tournament after beating Canada 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Sunday’s final in Dublin.

But the outcome was irrelevant, to a degree, as Saturday’s semi final win over Belarus, meant that the hosts had already qualified for the next stage of the qualifying process for the 2-16 Olympic Games.

Sunday’s win was Ireland’s sixth in a row in the tournament as they confirmed their top seeding as the highest-ranked competing nation.

Aine Connery’s nerveless penalty saw the hosts through after a pulsating final, Nikki Evans and Holly Stewart netting close range goals from penalty corners in the third quarter.

Nineteen-year-old Pegasus keeper, Ayeisha McFerran, who had come on specifically for the shoot-out, played a huge part too, saving Canada’s fifth penalty with a superb display of agility.

Ireland burst out of the blocks with Emma Smyth winning an early penalty corner that Katie Mullan squeezed through the defences of Kaitlynn Williams only for Abigail Raye to scoop the ball off the line.

Nikki Evans was next to try her luck with a vicious high shot that Williams – later named goalkeeper of the tournament – did well to palm away.

Kate Dillon volleyed another just past the post before Canada found their feet in the second quarter with Natalie Sourisseau at the heart of their good work.

Emma Gray needed to be alert to deny Alex Thicke from close range, ensuring the sides went into half time scoreless.

Within 35 seconds of the restart, the deadlock was broken as Chloe Watkins, one of Ireland’s key players on the day, jinked into the circle to win a corner.

Cliodhna Sargent’s bash was saved by Williams but only as far as Evans who snapped up the rebound with relish.

Canada levelled, though, in the 37th minute with a very smart move, picking out Stewart on the right post and she applied the right level of elevation to equalise.

In the shoot out, McFerran saved from Raye to leave Connery with the task of scoring to win the gold medals and she held her cool to slip home the winner as Belfield erupted.

More significant was Saturday’s 7-0 semi final win over Belarus which guaranteed Ireland’s place in the next stage of 2016 Olympic qualifying..

Following that success, Ireland will travel to Valencia in June to take part in the final eliminator for Rio 2016 when the opposition will be tougher.

In order to qualify for Rio, the girls in green must finish in the top six but to do so they will have to beat at least one and more likely two, higher-ranked nations.

Saturday’s result came as belated revenge for a 2-0 defeat by Belarus at the same tournament in 2013.

Ireland captain and Ulster Elks midfielder Megan Frazer, who pulled most of the strings, was delighted at the performance.

“It’s always nice to come out like that in a high pressure game, it was a great performance,” she said.

“We’re through to World League 3 and that’s what we wanted from this week and we have a have a final to come.”

Nikki Evans hit the opener after only two minutes after being set up by Ulster’s Katie Mullan and then Anna O’Flanagan made it 2-0.

Frazer added number three from the penalty spot shortly afterwards as Ireland went into the first break in the driving seat.

Her club mate Shirley McCay set up Naomi Carroll for number four and then Emma Smyth got on the score sheet to make it 5-0 at the half time break.

Evans got her second and Mullan was also on target in the second half as Ireland wrapped up their fifth straight win of the tournament.