Ireland have qualified for the World Korfball Championships for the first time in history, after a top 10 finish in the Europeans.
Coach Kees Verhoeven took a competitive squad to the Championships with 5 players having never played korfball on the international stage before. The tournament took place in Friesland, Netherlands, 13-21 October 2018.
The squad arrived at the group accommodation the day before the competition started, having just received the news that Turkey had pulled out, giving Ireland a bye in one of their group matches.
Fired up after a training session in the afternoon, Ireland traveled to play in 3 pre-tournament friendly matches versus KV de Granaet in preparation for the Championships starting the next day. Thanks to the players and crowd who came to watch some great games!
As the Championships kicked off the next day, Ireland had France and Slovakia in their group and knew they had some tough matches ahead.
In the first match of the group stage, Ireland faced France – a match up with history behind it as Ireland narrowly lost to the team by golden goal in the European Qualifiers in 2016. The match was tightly contested throughout, with both teams going goal for goal. Half time score was 6-6 before Shay Conroy and Hannah Goodridge put away some fantastic shots, giving Ireland a 13-8 lead with 1 quarter remaining! But France came back fighting, and their shots proved too accurate for the Irish players, bringing the match back to a draw of 15-15 at full time. And so, once again, Ireland and France went into extra time for golden goal. After a quick goal in the French attack, Ireland lost.
Ireland’s next match was against Slovakia, a team who had recently lost to France (also by golden goal!) in their other group match. Slovakia started strong, playing aggressive korfball and allowing them to lead at half time 5-6. Substitutions were made by Coach Kees giving Alicia Nolan and Charley Lewis their international debuts. A flurry of goals for both teams, in particular by James Norman, meant spectators didn’t know which way it was going to go. Alas, the Slovakian captain’s shot proved too deadly as the clock counted down. Ireland defeated, 12-16.
At the end of a tough group stage, Ireland had finished 3rd, but were determined to keep fighting as a top 10 finish was still within reach. The earlier losses meant Ireland would face more difficult matches in the crossover stages against teams who finished higher in their groups.
In a clash of home nations, Ireland now took on Scotland. A win was needed to ensure Ireland had a chance of qualifying. Another nail-bitingly close game ensued, each team determined to claim the win. 6-6 at half time. Stewart McConvery came onto the pitch full of energy and to the delight of the crowd, and went on to score a hatrick of goals to edge Ireland ahead. Unlike the previous games, the team managed to keep the lead thanks to tight defence not allowing the Scottish team to get their shots up. A WIN for Ireland at full time – 15-13!
The final hurdle for World Championship Qualification for Ireland rose in the form of another match against Slovakia, but this time the squad already had a win under their belt. Early goals from both teams left the scores close at the first quarter, with Ireland edging it 3-2 and then 6-5 at half time. Free passes and penalties were awarded to both sides as the game play intensified with only 1 goal ever separating the two teams. 8-7 at the start of the last quarter. Some cracking goals from top scorer James Norman and a crucial running in shot from Abby Golding left the way clear for Ireland to seal the win and automatic qualification for the World Championships. Final score 13-9 to the Irish! The squad could relax that evening, celebrating late into the night.
The last match of the tournament was a fight for 9/10th position against Poland, who’d had a great competition so far. With qualification guaranteed for both teams no matter the result, this was a match to be enjoyed by all. Coach Kees gave international debuts to Sam Ward, Amy Freear and Ash Yates. Captain Lizzie Tighe made a strong start with a penalty and a medium range shot but these were the only goals for the Irish in the first 20 minutes – 10-2 to Poland at half time. Despite some tactical substitutions for Ireland late in the match, the Polish attack was too strong to overcome. 21-7 full time.
The competition closed with some well earned drinks and squad celebrations. History had been made – Ireland had never qualified for the worlds before. There were player awards distributed and an opportunity to thank the fantastic team of staff who supported the squad throughout the week: Coach Kees Verhoeven, Assistant Coach Rinaldo Molenaar, Team Managers Claire Woodroffe and Nora Goodridge, Physio Arie van Loon and Assistant Physio Amy Sherston-Baker.
The squad would like to thank the other teams, the IKF and the KNKV for organising such a fantastic tournament. Particular thanks go to the friends and family who travelled out to support the squad – it made the world of difference!
Ireland now look forward to Durban, South Africa, where the World Championships will be held in August 2019. For more information on the World Championships, please refer to the IKF website.