A goal in the final minute has seen the Hockeyroos secure a thrilling 3-2 win over New Zealand in the Oceania Cup to send the series to a deciding third game.
Heading into the encounter needing a victory after the Black Sticks Women won the first match, it was a Renee Taylor field goal that proved the winner to leave the teams to battle it out tomorrow for a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
There was a clear sense of urgency, intent and sharpness from the Hockeyroos from the outset as they knew what was at stake.
However, the home side was made to withstand some early Black Sticks pressure, Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch forced to make a couple of telling saves in the opening minutes.
Then an opportunity arrived at the other end of the field courtesy of a penalty corner and the Hockeyroos made their early defensive staunchness count.
Madison Fitzpatrick’s initial drag flick was blocked but she rifled home the rebound to give the Hockeyroos a dream start after six minutes, Kaitlin Nobbs and Amy Lawton setting the tone early on.
The Australians survived a few nervous moments and just when it appeared they had held firm, the home side was stung seconds before the quarter time break.
Kiwi forward Olivia Merry found herself completely unmarked in the circle from a long pass straight up the channel, and the striker managed to beat Lynch with a neat deflection to draw New Zealand level.
Co-captain Jodie Kenny was inches away from restoring the advantage when her drag flick found the outside of the post, the second quarter turning into an end to end arm wrestle.
The Hockeyroos looked to tighten the screws to start the third quarter and only two expert saves from Grace O’Hanlon in the Black Sticks goal prevented Rosie Malone and then Kenny from scoring.
But the Hockeyroos would not be denied. In the 43rd minute the ball spilled out to Brooke Peris near the left post, who reached out with her reverse stick to tuck the ball home from the acutest of angles.
Back in front, the Hockeyroos’ joy was short lived however as the Kiwis responded again through a successful penalty corner to equalise and set up a dramatic finale.
A mazy run into the circle from Lawton created a half chance with time running out as the Hockeyroos’ desperation increased.
Then as the seconds ticked away, magnificent persistence from Emily Chalker near the baseline saw her square the ball up to a free Taylor who had time to pick her spot and send the Rockhampton crowd into raptures.
O’Hanlon asked for a referral but the time reviewing the decision only denied the inevitable as the final siren marked a win full of character.
“It was an excellent win,” said Kenny post match.
“Obviously the first game was disappointing but we had lots of fire in the belly and I’m just so proud of the girls. It was an amazing team performance so we’re happy to get the win.”
“We knew it was going to be a really tough battle and were going to have to fight to the last minute so it was a great performance.”
“There was obviously a lot of pressure on us going into it. We had to put the first game to bed and make sure we didn’t leave anything out there, so it was great to get the result.”
“I thought there was huge improvement all over the pitch and it showed on the scoreboard in the end.”
The Hockeyroos have less than 24 hours before they must back up against the Black Sticks Women again with an Olympic spot on the line for the winner.
“We’ve got to do all of the right things now. Recovery is key and then we’ll get ready to go tomorrow,” said Kenny.
“We spoke about it right at the start of the tournament that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve had two of the races, now we‘ve just got to get the job done for the last one.
“There is a psychological element to that but we proved that we’re a strong team coming from the loss in the first game to turn it around today, and I’ve got no doubt we can do it again and finish the series off with a win.”
Hockeyroos 3 (M.Fitzpatrick 6’, Peris 43’, R.Taylor 60’)
New Zealand 2 (Merry 15’, Gunson 47’)
Kalka Shades Hockey Fields, Rockhampton