Hockey : Nikki Symmons 200th Cap as Ireland and Canada share first two tests

Ireland and Canada shared the spoils in the first two of three tests at the weekend. The decider takes place this (Tuesday) evening 7.30 pm at U.C.D

First Test: Ireland 2 Canada 3

The Electric Ireland Irish Women’s team were beaten 3-2 by Canada at a wet & windy UCD as Irish International Nikki Symmons earned her 200th cap for the Green Army. It is a phenomenal achievement for the Loreto Hockey Club player who was presented to the crowd at the National Hockey Stadium before taking the field to become the first Irish Hockey International to reach 200 caps for their country. The opening game between the two sides, also saw a 1st cap for Ireland’s Emily Beatty and a 50th Cap for Nicci Daly.

Ireland’s performance on the pitch however did not match the occasion and a sluggish start to the game saw Emma Gray in the Ireland goal called into action early as Canada created the best of the early chances before taking a deserved 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. Ireland fought back well though and equalised through a well-executed Audrey O’Flynn penalty corner.

The teams headed for the break all-square but it took less than 6 minutes for Canada to regain the lead. That lead was extended further to 3-1 mid-way through the 2nd half and Ireland were left with an uphill task to come back into the game.

To their credit Darren Smith’s side kept plugging away at the resolute Canadian defence and finally opened them up following great play by Pinder who set up Mullan to expertly to slide the ball home with less than 10 minutes to play.

Ireland hustled and harried their North American opposition in an effort to draw level but were unable to find the goal they desperately sought.

Speaking to after the game Electric Ireland Irish Senior Women’s Coach Darren Smith said “We didn’t have a good day today. We were well below our potential. I thought we lacked a little bit of courage in some of the options we took and lacked composure in certain situations. We were a bit anxious and rushed at times and that has caused us a few problems today”

Ireland’s now 200th capped player, Nikki Symmons commented “It was a huge honour to receive my 200th cap in front of our home fans and was great to see so many familiar faces here at UCD. It was just disappointing though that we didn’t play particularly well as a team today. We need to regroup and come back stronger tomorrow to try to get the win”

Second Test: Ireland 2 Canada 1

The Electric Ireland Senior Women’s team bounced back from yesterday’s disappointment to emerge 2-1 victors over Canada in wet and windy UCD next day..

Darren Smith’s team were tougher in their fifty-fifty battles and breached the Canadian press much more so than in their first test.

Ireland made the better start and won their first penalty corner in the fourth minute when a pass from Watkins found O’Flanagan in the circle, popping the ball onto a Canadian foot.

Harvey’s drag was run down at the top, and minutes later Canada forced a corner of their own when a baseline run came of Meeke’s foot. The resulting flick lead to a re-award and the ball was flung wide.

Ireland began to find more flow and fluidity through the backline and midfield, but the final pass was missing and they struggled to penetrate the Canadian circle with any success.

With two minutes left in the half O’Flanagan took the initiative off a side-line ball on the right. Her mazy run beat four Canadian players but her reverse effort was saved high by the goalkeeper, and a penalty corner awarded.

With seconds left on the clock Michelle Harvey stepped up from the back to give the Green Army a 1-0 lead from a pin-point drag flick low to the keeper’s right.

Half time and the score board read Ireland 1 Canada 0.

Canada made the brighter start to the second half, clipping a shot over the cross-bar and forcing Grace O’Flanagan to smother well from a tight angle.

They won their third penalty corner of the game nine minutes after the restart, after an Irish break down on the half way line led to a Canadian break away force a foot in the circle.

The ensuing set piece was again well saved from O’Flanagan, and minutes later Ireland won a corner after good work from Jacob on the right forced a stick-chop.

Harvey’s flick was saved but Watkins did well to win another. This time Harvey made no mistake as her low fling found O’Flanagan flying in from the left to touch home and put the Green Army 2-0 up.

Canada won two corners in a period where Ireland found themselves unable to maintain possession when under pressure. The first was well saved by O’Flanagan and the second went dangerously into the face of Niamh Atcheler before the rebound found the back of the net.

Time was stopped for the blood injury but after umpire deliberation the goal stood. Atcheler received a nasty gash on her forehead for her troubles and took no further part in the game.

Another corner with 13 minutes left in the half forced Dillon to concede a stroke when the resulting flick hit her body on the line. O’Flanagan stood tall to make a reflex save high to the right and Ireland’s slender one goal lead remained.

It was then Ireland’s turn to attack as they went in search of a third. Duke and Beatty were particularly effective going forward, the latter finding Evans who shot just wide of the upright with minutes to go.

Time fizzled out along with Canada’s chances of snatching an equaliser, and the score finished 2-1 to the Green Army.

Smith was happier with his side’s performance but still felt improvements need to be made:

“It was a better performance from the girls today, with increased energy through the game. I’m pleased to be able to introduce other players to the series and be confident they can perform.”

“Tuesday’s decider will be a tough game, where we will need to fix our mistakes to win the series.”

The series now stands at one apiece, with the decider to be played on Tuesday evening, 7.30pm in UCD.


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