Ayeisha McFerran helps secure brilliant point for Ireland against Belgium

Goalkeeper in brilliant form to keep out world number four side in opening Olympic Games qualifier

Belgium 0 Ireland 0

She’s had no end of busy days in goal for Ireland through the years, but Ayeisha McFerran won’t have had too many when she was kept more occupied than in Ireland’s Olympic Qualifier opener in Valencia on Saturday. Arguably, her team produced their finest competitive result since the 2018 World Cup by holding Belgium to a scoreless draw.

The Belgians are the fourth ranked side in the world, nine places above Ireland in the list, and are firm favourites to top a pool that is completed by Korea (12) and Ukraine (28).

Realistically, then, Ireland had targeted their games against the Koreans and Ukraine for points, but Saturday’s draw was the mother of all bonuses, sending them in to those encounters in the highest of spirits.

A top three finish in the eight-team tournament is required to book a place in Paris this summer, the initial requirement a top two slot in the pool and a place in the semi-finals to have any hope of making it two Olympic qualifications in a row, the women having made their debut at the Games in Tokyo.

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Having conceded 10 penalty corners, though, in the opening 10 minutes of the game, Ireland were, predictably, put under the most intense of pressure. But a combination of McFerran’s goalkeeping and an all-round outstanding defensive display left the Belgians frustrated throughout.

Next up is Ukraine on Monday, before the pool campaign is completed against Korea the following day.

Ireland’s men start their campaign at the same venue on Sunday evening, Ukraine their opponents.

IRELAND: A McFerran, S Hawkshaw, K Mullan (capt), H McLoughlin, E Neill, N Carroll, E Curran, C Beggs, K McKee, D Duke, B Harper.

Subs: S McAuley, M Carey, R Upton, N Carey, S Torrans, C Watkins.

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