Dragflick Newsdesk : Ireland finished strong to end their first ever Junior World Cup campaign in ninth place with a third successive win in Potchefstroom, running up four second half goals in a superb performance.
Siofra O’Brien, Lisa Mulcahy, Yasmin Pratt and Christina Hamill were all on the score sheet, ending the campaign in ninth place. It added to wins over Canada and Malaysia in the classification matches, bouncing back well from the group stages when Ireland missed out on the top eight in frustrating fashion.
“We really enjoyed this!” said player of the match Sarah McAuley.
“We treated it like our final and did ourselves proud, finishing ninth. I am so proud of all the girls. It was the last game; we just said ‘go out, give it a lash and relish this opportunity’.”
Reflecting on the flow and tactical battle of the game, coach David Passmore added:
“We didn’t convert in the first half and were a little bit frantic at times. But in the second, we played with a lot more composure. We did have a small panic when we lost a bit of structure but you have to ride those periods. It will never be plain sailing for 60 minutes.
“Tactically, we did it how we wanted to do it. The key thing is we wanted to develop with every game and finish well and we have done that.
“We like to play on the front foot, pressing, pressing, pressing. From the other Austrian games, I hadn’t seen them face that and so I thought we’d give it a go. You do accept they will occasionally get the ball through but we won a lot of ball.”
That high pressing intent was shown from the outset. Yasmin Pratt – player of the match in the win over Malaysia – won a corner with just 35 seconds gone, a set piece which took over 20 minutes to take place as lightning in the area saw the players race off the pitch as a precaution.
On their return to action, Sarah McAuley twice tested goalkeeper Fabienne Gnehm from the top of the D before brilliantly keeping out Anna Horan at close quarters from Christina Hamill’s dancing run and cross.
Austria, sitting in a deep half-court mode, had only fleeting moments in offence but were providing tough to break down and it remained scoreless in the first half.
The gaps started to appear more frequently in the third quarter and Ireland made the breakthrough in the 36th minute when McAuley, stepping up down the left wing, cut inside and picked out Siofra O’Brien.
The striker had her back to goal but turned smartly and chipped in a backhand shot that left Gnehm with no chance.
Austria showed more in attack after the goal, winning their first corner which Katharina Proksch fired just wide but they were two behind as the hooter blew for the end of Q3.
Pratt was again instrumental in winning the set play which Caoimhe Perdue slapped at goal and Lisa Mulcahy deflected in.
Holly Micklem was called to make her first save with nine minutes to go, sliding out brilliantly to block Franziska Frey and, from the rebound, the Old Alex keeper made her second block seconds later.
But the tie was well and truly settled from Ireland’s sixth corner, again Perdue bringing the power and Pratt was on hand to redirect the shot out of reach of sub goalie Corinna Stedronsky.
Christina Hamill closed out the tournament with a beautiful piece of work, McAuley’s long ball locating Mikayla Power who slipped an inviting pass that the Loreto midfielder threw herself to make it 4-0.
It brought the curtain down on a dramatic World Cup campaign, one which was initially postponed from December and then realigned due to Russia’s exclusion and Ukraine’s eventual withdrawal.
Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable experience for the Junior Green Army to compete at this level for the first time, winning three out of five fixtures in South Africa.
“I just want to thank everyone here for being so kind,” Passmore concluded.
“We got such a great welcome. It’s been a tough two years for everyone on the organising committee and we really appreciate everything they have done.”