It was one of the most dramatic moments we have witnessed in Irish sport in recent years, and it preserved the legacy of Hockey’s Irish Women’s team as one of the most popular groups of sporting stars we have.
Two nights of action without a goal over 120 minutes were more about not making mistakes than they were about providing a showcase for the sport but when the stakes were as high as a place at the Tokyo Olympics that was hardly unexpected.
The penalty shoot-out delivered drama at a higher level than could have been imagined with Ireland coming back from a seemingly impossible situation to end the night on an unimaginable high.
With three penalties taken by each side, Ireland trailed by 3-1 with Canada only needing to score one of their remaining two or stopping one of Ireland’s to leave the 6,137 fans that packed Energia Park in despair.
That was the cue for Ayeisha McFerran to step forward and do her thing. She was named as the Goalkeeper of the tournament at last Summer’s World Cup. Last night, when there was not a millimetre of wriggle room, she produced two saves in the regulation five and then one more in sudden death to spark scenes of wild jubilation.
Bethany Carr, Chloe Watkins and Roisín Upton backed her up with the essential scores and the flights to Tokyo can now be booked.
It is the first time that a women’s team has qualified for the Olympics in a field sport and it gives another year in which the sport can seek to grow its appeal on the achievements of an incredibly likeable and popular group of players.
The risk of bringing the sport to a bigger live audience at Energia park paid off with crowds of over 6,000 packing the stands on both nights. It was cold, it lashed rain on Saturday and again in parts last night but nobody that was there, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, will have regretted a single split second of it.
This is a team that defeated Ireland’s Grand Slam Rugby Players in a popular vote to capture last year’s RTÉ Sport Team of the Year.
Captain Katie Mullen confirmed last night in a winning interview for the camera’s that they were not going to the Olympics to make up the numbers and that this was a group that was capable of anything.
At times over the past year, it felt a little like the legacy of London was in danger of being forgotten. But then last night happened and we have another nine months at least to marvel in the spirit of one fine team that is far from done with our emotions yet.
Image credit: Dan Sheridan, Inpho.ie