by Brendan Cole
The Ireland women’s hockey team’s bid to get to London 2012 ended in disappointment as a first-half hat-trick by Sofie Gierts helped Belgium win a play-off clash at the Beerschot Hockey club.
Ireland had six penalty corners in the first half but were unable to convert, with Belgium bravely putting their defenders directly in the line of Audrey O’Flynn’s powerful drag-flick.
O'Flynn did score late in the second half only for Belgium's Erica Coppey to reply immediately afterwards.
After a cagey opening 10 minutes, Gierts provided the game’s one moment of real class, palming a ball out the air and pulling hard to send it low and hard past Emma Gray in the Irish goal and set the home team on their way.
The next goal was more controversial, coming for a penalty stroke awarded for Ireland defender Nikki Symmons' reverse swipe with her stick as Jill Boon attacked for Belgium. Boon was isolated and surrounded with no shot on goal, and the call looked a harsh one.
But Gierts made no mistake with her drag-flick from the spot, putting it high and to the right of Gray in the Irish goal.
Belgium's third came from a penalty corner, their only one of the match, and again Gierts supplied the finish. Ireland rushed up hard off the line only for the ball to be moved back to the star forward, who took the initial hit She applied the easy finish from a couple of yards out.
Ireland had not played badly and had their chances, most notably the impressive Cliodhna Sargent’s follow-up shot after a blocked penalty corner. But the 24-year-old defender’s shot went high over the bar and Ireland went in 3-0 down at the break.
The excellent Emma Smyth was the main attacking threat in the second half and she engineered a late penalty corner chance when driving into the Belgian D down the Irish right.
From a simple push and shot, O’Flynn found the net with a low drag under Nadine Khouzam in the Belgian goal. But that glimmer of hope was shut down almost immediately.
At the other end, Erica Coppey pulled on a bouncing ball in the Irish D and saw it find the net despite goalkeeper Gray’s despairing touch, finally extinguishing Irish hopes