Derry hockey star Megan Frazer is one game away from next summer’s Rio Olympics after scoring one of the goals that brought the Ireland Ladies team an historic first victory over the United States in Valencia this week.
The Ulster Elks player, who captains the Irish team ahead of tomorrow’s crunch World League Quarter-final clash against China, described the result as “not a complete surprise” but praised the efforts of her team mates.
“I knew we had it in us; we played them three times in the past month and it served us well and learned a lot about them,” said Frazer. “All credit to our coaching staff. They put together a fabulous tactical plan and we executed well. We had belief from the beginning.”
Ireland went into the game as underdogs against an American side ranked 5th in the world and who had already defeated the ‘Girls in Green’ 4-1 earlier in the season.
However, one goal and an assist from the former Foyle College student proved enough as Ireland defended superbly to withstand a late American onslaught which included eight penalty corners.
Anna O’Flanagan scored the insurance goal a minute from full-time to send Ireland through to the last eight against a China team who have lost three of their four games in the competition.
Olympic qualification would cap a fairytale year for Frazer who also captained the ‘Elks’ to this season’s Irish Senior Cup tile.
The win means they end the group with three wins from four outings – two of them against higher ranked opposition – to comfortably earn that quarter-final berth.
It was a smash and grab performance, built on a huge defensive effort as the US won eight penalty corners and drew a series of last ditch tackles from a gutsy Irish defence.
From the few attacks Ireland had, they showed real menace. Frazer served notice of her intent with one backhand shot that was brilliantly tipped around the post by Jackie Briggs before she opened the scoring.
Gillian Pinder set it up with a neat turn before laying it into her captain’s path and she pinged home a low finish.
USA dominated the play thereafter. They had already seen a couple of chances well saved – including one from Melissa Gonzalez spectacularly batted away by Cliodhna Sargent.
The second half was one-way traffic with the US corner count mounting. Shirley McCay spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for an over-exuberant tackle to pen the side back further.
US corner strikers Rachel Dawson and Lauren Crandall, though, were stumped either by the helmet of Emma Gray or the diving blocks of Yvonne O’Byrne, Sargent and Anna O’Flanagan while Hannah Matthews and Ali Meeke were immense at the back, too.
I knew we had it in us; we played them three times in the past month and it served us well and learned a lot about them.Megan Frazer
It kept them clinging on for the result and, from their sole attack of the second half, with 70 seconds to go, Ireland broke through Frazer who laid on for O’Flanagan to sweep home the second goal.
Ireland: E Gray, Y O’Byrne, C Sargent, E Smyth, N Evans, S McCay, M Frazer, L Colvin, N Daly, H Matthews
Subs: K Mullan, G Pinder, A Connery, C Watkins, K Dillon, A Meeke, A McFerran.
USA: J Briggs, M Gonzalez, K Kolojejchick, R Dawson, J Witmer, J Reinprecht, K Reinprecht, K O’Donnell, K Falgowski, L Crandall, A Manley; Subs: S Fee, M Vittese, M Kasold, P Selenski, K Sharkey, C van Sickle, A Widdall.
World League Group B standings: 1. Ireland 9pts (+4) 2. Germany 8pts (+10) 3. USA 7pts (+3) 4. South Africa 2pts (-6) 5. Uruguay 1pt (-11).