"This time it felt like we had something to lose" – Matthews

By Stephen Leonard

HANNAH Matthews spoke of her relief after Ireland Women's Hockey team scraped past the challenge of Canada on Sunday to subsequently clinch their place at next year's Tokyo Olympic Games.

In a dramatic two-leg play-off at Energia Park that failed to produce a goal, it was down to a shootout during which the homeside's hopes of qualification appeared to be quickly evaporating.

Ireland Womens Hockey 071119

The Ireland team celebrate after qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games following their FIH Women's Olympic Qualifier match against Canada at Energia Park in Dublin on Sunday (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Indeed they found themselves 3-1 down, Loreto's Nicci Daly accounting for their only score at this point, leaving them needing to convert their next two penalty shuttles and for goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran to produce a double save just to force sudden death.

The Ireland shotstopper duly obliged with the latter while both Beth Barr and Chloe Watson converted to haul Ireland back from the death.

And they made it over the line when Roisin Upton squeezed the ball home  and Canada failed to find the target in time thanks again to some great work by McFerran.

Canada referred to video referee in the hope she might spot an infringement, but she dismissed their claims upon viewing the replay, subsequently sparking wild celebrations.

Loreto club star, Matthews who was part of Ireland's stunning 2018 World Cup campaign that saw them make it all the way to the final, eventually taking silver, felt that the quest for Olympic qualification was a much different experience.

"It [the confidence gained from World Cup success] definitely helped, but it felt like a different situation" she said.

"This time it felt like we had something to lose, whereas in last year's World Cup, every time we got through a round it was a bonus. It felt consequence-free.

"It [qualification] was really emotional. Four years ago we didn't do it and here we were again and it went to penalties.

"How the players who took those penalties held their nerve, I don't know, and Ayeisha was brilliant.

"We would have preferred to win it in normal time, but when you have a goalkeeper like Ayeisha you do feel so confident.

"But it was huge relief after being two penalties down. We knew we had to save two and score the rest of our penalties. It was just such relief.

"I don't think the team was tentative in the two games, it was just that Canada did a good job defensively in breaking down our play. They were very physical.

"And the longer it went on the more tension there was. If one of us had scored I think the game would have opened up more. But it was just more that Canada defended well rather than us being tentative" she told The Echo.

While reveling in the prospect of travelling to Tokyo next year, the Terenure woman insists they won't be going there simply to make up the numbers.

"We've never been there before but we'll be looking to do well" she insisted.

"We love to play against the best teams in the world. That's when we're at our best.

"We have progressed more especially now that we're part time. We get to meet up more so there's more player-contact.

"With Sean [Dancer] there's more emphasis on attacking play. People probably might not have seen that in the last couple of games, but he's definitely more attacking."

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