Ireland’s quarter-final hopes came to a formal end as they could not find the victory they needed to continue their involvement in the women’s Olympic hockey competition.
ndia’s 4-3 win over South Africa earlier in the day left a simple equation against the reigning champions – win or bust.
But, despite a performance packed with resilience and endeavour, Britain kept the Green Army at bay. Susannah Townsend swooped to score from their fifth penalty corner in the second quarter and Irish hopes of a major upset faded when Hannah Martin guided in Ellie Rayer’s exceptional cross a minute into the second half
Ireland pushed on in the closing quarter, swapping out goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran – who impressed once again – for an extra outfielder for the closing stages. But GB defended resolutely to get the result which also assured their progression to the last eight.
For Ireland, it meant a fifth place finish in the group stages to their maiden Olympic campaign, outside the top four required to advance.
Despite the low-key end, it brought to a close what was a ground-breaking tournament, a first for Irish women’s hockey and, indeed, for women’s team sports at the Games.
It brought a first win last week on debut when South Africa were beaten 2-0, Róisín Upton etching her name into the record books as first Olympic goalscorer.
“It is raw emotion,” Hannah McLoughlin said in the immediate aftermath, looking back on the tournament. “Firstly not getting to the quarter-finals which I think we were more than capable of. Secondly, knowing this is probably a few of our players last games. It is not the send-off any of us wanted to give them.
“But we have broken the ceiling, coming to the Olympics and for those of us fortunate enough to keep going, we want to push on for Paris and then go for quarters and semis.
“Even before coming out here, getting on any plane, regardless of any result, we were bursting with pride for my friends, family and all the people I represent, the other 18 players here with me. The few words we did have after the match, although disappointment was quite a big thing, pride came up an awful lot.
“Although the result was not what we wanted, no one has any regrets about today – we gave it our all, it just wasn’t to be.”
Coach Sean Dancer concurred: “We are here on the field, trying to hold our head up high with what we have achieved and where we have got to. We will take a lot of lessons from the journey and experience. We are competing against the best in the world in the pinnacle of our event.
“For women’s sport and Irish hockey, it’s certainly something to be very proud to be part of. The girls have done all the hard work over the last four years, getting that silver medal and in a good position for this tournament. Very proud of all their performances.
“Those girls should be very proud of the performances they put in and what they have achieved. There will be a few tears and some celebrations over the next few weeks when they get a chance.”
A number of players will likely formally hang up their international sticks in the wake of the event but McLoughlin says they have laid the base for a new agenda and belief.
“The lucky ones of us who get to carry on are just going to use this as motivation to push on, train harder. We have proven we can compete with the best countries in the world. This is my first taste of that and I am going to take that forward, not play with any fear.
“The thing I took from the Olympic Village was how other people are so intrigued by us. We are out on the grass, not caring what we look like, having fun and others start to join in, saying ‘God, we just love the Irish’.
“It’s only this tournament I really notice there is no other team in this tournament or the world who I would want to be part of; one that’s as open, as fun, as accepting as this 19 individuals. The whole experience has been unbelievable.”
Ireland: A McFerran, S McAuley, S McCay, R Upton, L Tice, C Watkins, K Mullan, A O’Flanagan, S Hawkshaw, D Duke, S Torrans
Subs: H McLoughlin, H Matthews, L Holden, Z Malseed, N Daly
Great Britain: M Hinch, L Unsworth, A Toman, S Jones, S Townsend, S Robertson, E Rayer, G Ansley, H Pearne-Webb, S McCallin, L Owsley
Subs: H Martin, I Petter, L Wilkinson, F Crackles, G Balsdon
Umpires: C de la Fuente (ARG), E Yamada (JPN)