World Cup: the Fall of Ireland, From World Cup Silver to a Supporting Role

Four years ago, they were the surprise of the World Cup. Then the Irish women left the tournament with a radiant face and a silver medal. In this edition, The Green Army did not survive the first group stage. And that hurts, with goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran.

Kampong’s last defence was there four years ago when they marked the pinnacle of Irish hockey history. And how she was barely passable in the quarter- and semi-finals in the shoot-out series, which Ireland won against India and Spain. In the group, the Irish had already beaten the Indians and also the United States.  

That all seemed much longer on Wednesday afternoon than four years ago.

Now they were empty-handed after three duels. Defeated. A large part of the team remained on the field for a long time after the decisive 3-0 defeat against Germany. “And we didn’t even say that much to each other,” McFerran said. “There wasn’t much to say either. Above all, it is very disappointing. This hits hard, if I’m honest. Although we knew in advance that this tournament was going to be a big challenge.’

Photo: Koen Suyko

A world of difference

Ireland was not a miracle team at the previous World Cup. They didn’t eliminate major countries. Lost thick in the final (6-0) of the Netherlands. The Irish were not a top team, but a super sympathetic sub top player who started to believe in themselves more and more. But that team lost players over the years. Defining names like Anna O’Flanagan, Nicci Daly and Chloe Watkins, just to name a few.  

“We only have five left from the last World Cup,” says McFerran. ‘The quality of this group is not much lower. Here is the future of Irish hockey. Talented players. But look at what’s gone. We have lost several players who have played more than 150, 200 caps. You don’t just catch that. Now there are players who make their debut at this World Cup. Play their first cap, here against the Netherlands.’

A world of difference. However, the vice world champion had good papers in advance for a place in the intermediate round. That the Netherlands, which lost 5-1 on Saturday, and Germany would be a few sizes too big, that every sane Irish hockey fan would have expected. The biggest blow came on Tuesday, when Chile lost 1-0.

McFerran was substituted in the final phase, but had to go back in for two penalty shots. She took the last one. Photo: Koen Suyko

An unexpected right wing

‘That is the team with the lowest ranking at the World Cup’, the Irish media pointed out subtly. They called the surprise defeat a ‘sucker punch’. Loosely translated: a blow that you suddenly get, without warning. An unexpected right. “The disappointment was even greater after that game than it is now,” McFerran sighs. “We didn’t do what we could do. We didn’t play as a team and we didn’t perform our individual duties well.” With a sigh: ‘We should learn from that. We would like to take the next step. Play more threatening. But that takes time.’  

Ireland no longer has that time at this World Cup. The number two of 2018 can at most become ninth four years later. Has been sentenced to a supporting role, while the tournament has not even been going on for a week. ‘The heads have to go up again. It’s not what we wanted, but we still have something to play for,” McFerran tries to cheer himself up. With fire in our eyes: ‘We don’t wear this Irish shirt for nothing.’

McFerran himself absolutely radiated that spirit against Germany in the final phase. After being exchanged for an extra field player for minutes, she took a penalty in the final seconds. She hears compliments about that save with resignation. She can hardly be proud of it, afterwards. ‘I am a fighter. I’ve always been. I’m there for the team. In what minute, I don’t care.’

It was her last achievement as vice world champion. A glimpse of the glory of four years ago.  

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