CLARE’S Naomi Carroll played a central role as the Ireland women’s hockey team overcame France 4-1 in their opening European qualifiers for the 2022 Women’s FIH Hockey World Cup, writes Ivan Smyth.
The Clare woman started up front and played an important role in Ireland’s fourth goal as Sean Dancer’s side moved a step closer towards World Cup qualification.
This eight-team competition is being played in a knock-out format with only one side earning a place at next summer’s World Cup. One defeat and Ireland’s World Cup dream is over.
A powerful second half display saw them break down a tough French outfit. Sean Dancer’s side face Belarus next after scoring four second half goals.
Ireland dominated the opening half but found it tough to carve out clear cut chances against a battling French side. This Ireland side are the highest ranked team in this competition as they found their rhythm in the second half to progress.
Despite Anna O’Flanagan going close for Ireland in the opening quarter, the first half ended goalless. Róisín Upton put Ireland in front from a penalty corner but their lead was nearly cancelled out four minutes later but Ayeisha McFerran saved from Marie Simon.
Ireland went close again when twin sisters Michelle and Niamh Carey combined on 41 minutes but upon the start of the fourth quarter, Sean Dancer’s side moved 2-0 ahead. Ireland saw a penalty corner saved but Hannah McLoughlin reacted quickest to double her side’s advantage.
Zara Malseed put Ireland 3-0 up before France gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Guusje van Bolhuis struck home on her backhand from a corner.
However, Ireland put the result beyond all doubt when Carroll powered down the left wing and set up Ellen Curran to fire an effort towards goal. Her shot was saved but Niamh Carey converted the rebound as she scored on her debut.
Ireland face Belgium on Saturday at 11am Irish time as a win will move them one game away from World Cup qualification.