Roll of Hon­our

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - EAMONN SWEENEY

It has been a re­mark­able year for Ir­ish sport — eas­ily the most suc­cess­ful ever in terms of medals won on the in­ter­na­tional stage. The list of who won what is im­pres­sive.

IT is Au­gust 4, 2018 and on a swel­ter­ing Lon­don af­ter­noon and Gil­lian Pinder is do­ing some­thing which has never been done be­fore in Ir­ish sport. She is try­ing to put Ire­land into a World Cup fi­nal.

Pinder is 26 years old and has more than 100 caps for her coun­try, but a cou­ple of weeks ago she was un­known out­side the ranks of Ir­ish hockey fans. Right now she bears the hopes of not just those fans but of ev­ery­one who’s be­come en­tranced by the ex­tra­or­di­nary odyssey which be­gan when Ire­land scored a shock 3-1 win over the USA two weeks prior to to­day.

Ire­land were ranked 15th out of the 16 teams at the fi­nals. But that win over the Amer­i­cans was fol­lowed by one over In­dia which en­sured Ire­land made it to the quar­ter-fi­nals. In­dia barred the way to the last four but Ire­land pre­vailed in a penalty shoot-out.

That was tense but the ten­sion as Pinder starts her run on goal is of a dif­fer­ent or­der al­to­gether. No Ir­ish team has ever made a se­nior World Cup fi­nal and now this elu­sive dream seems within touch­ing dis­tance.

Twice al­ready to­day the fi­nal seemed in reach in an ab­sorb­ing en­counter against Spain. First when Anna O’Flana­gan gave Ire­land an early lead which they held for over half an hour be­fore Ali­cia Magaz equalised. And then just a minute ago when af­ter Chloe Watkins had put Ire­land 2-1 ahead in the shootout you’d have bet on in­spi­ra­tional goal­keeper Ayeisha McFer­ran pro­duc­ing a match-win­ning stop.

In­stead, Lola Riera pro­duced an au­da­cious lob, one of the best fin­ishes in the year in any sport, to tie things up. That sent the shoot-out into sud­den death mode with Spain to go first. This time there is no beat­ing McFer­ran who robs Ge­orgina Oliva and boots the ball away.

It’s Gil­lian Pinder time. She has eight sec­onds in which to make his­tory.

You feel that if Ire­land let the op­por­tu­nity slip a third time it might not come again. This is hard to watch. It’s ut­terly nerve-rack­ing, even for peo­ple who could never have imag­ined they would one day be bit­ing their nails over the for­tunes of the Ir­ish women’s hockey team.

The woman her­self is not ner­vous. She seems su­per­nat­u­rally cool, like some­one knock­ing about in the warmup. The Pem­broke Wan­der­ers player ad­vances on goal, mov­ing the ball from side to side and as she comes face to face with goal­keeper Maria Ruiz, she makes her move. A quick shift to the right gives her an open­ing and an em­phatic sweep of the stick steers the ball home.

Gil­lian Pinder has made his­tory with a sec­ond to spare. There is some­thing dream-like about the mo­ment as there has been some­thing dream-like about the en­tire run of a team we’ve come to know over the past fort­night. We’ve learned to ad­mire the im­per­turba­bil­ity of McFer­ran, the op­por­tunism of O’Flana­gan, the en­ergy of Katie Mul­lan, the skill of Nicci Daly and the in­tel­li­gence of Shirley McCay. But it’s the Pinder goal which will be the abid­ing mem­ory of a glo­ri­ous fort­night in Lon­don.

A tired Ire­land are no match for Hol­land in the fi­nal and af­ter­wards there is de­bate about whether their cam­paign is the har­bin­ger of a golden age for the game on this is­land or just a bril­liant one-off.

That de­bate seems kind of ir­rel­e­vant. Be­cause what­ever hap­pens next the Ir­ish women’s hockey team of 2018 cre­ated one of the great mo­ments in our sport­ing his­tory. It was won­der­ful in its own right.

This was this, and this was enough.

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