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Part-time players, second-lowest ranked side, World Cup finalists: Ireland’s incredible underdog story

Ireland's journey to the final, cited by many as one of the greatest underdog stories in the world of sports, comes to a compelling conclusion when they face seven-time champions Netherlands in the final.

Ireland will face seven-time champions Netherlands in the final of the 2018 Women’s Hockey World Cup. This is the first time ever that an Irish team has reached the final of any hockey world cup and it was also the team’s first appearance in 16 years at the tournament. So low were their chances at the tournament that the team had made hotel bookings only until the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Ireland were ranked 16 at the start of the tournament. Never before have a team so lowly ranked made it to the final of a major hockey tournament, whether it be the Olympics, the World Cup, or the Euros for which Ireland are eligible. It was reported in the Irish Times that the players had to pay 550 Euros each for playing in the team.

Ireland last played a #WorldCup in 2002. Their players, as per Irish Times, pay 550 euros each to play for the national team. They are the second lowest team in the tournament (16). Now, they are in the semifinals. What a story! #hockey

— Mihir Vasavda (@mihirsv) 2 August 2018

@irishhockey Incredible #FIHShootout at the @Vitality_UK #HWC2018 in London! ??
IRL v ESP @irishhockey
Watch here ?? https://t.co/Ng8PUTqYpA pic.twitter.com/2Zi9lMn6oj

— FIH (@FIH_Hockey) 4 August 2018

The squad is made up largely of amateur players with the likes of Anna O’Flanagan, who scored for Ireland in the semi-final, Nikki Evans and Chloe Watkins all having to put their other full-time jobs on hold for playing in the tournament.

When you bring a group of women together who have a common passion, great things can happen. Ireland’s hockey team – no funding – had to “pay their own way” to the Women’s World Cup….and have made it to the final v Spain. Remarkable. Outstanding. ?? ???? pic.twitter.com/AtogKXWy4Q

— judy murray (@JudyMurray) 5 August 2018

People talked of England’s millionaire footballers as “inspirational” and “heroes” for reaching #WorldCup semifinal.

Here is a group from all parts of #Ireland who have *had to pay their own way* to hockey’s World Cup – and will play in the semifinal on Saturday.

Astonishing. pic.twitter.com/OTvSjlN4MM

— Ian James Parsley (@ianjamesparsley) 2 August 2018

There was good reason for Ireland to not plan beyond the quarter-final stage; the team have ever reached a semi-final at the World Cup. But on August 3 they managed to book their place in the final four by beating India on shootouts. Another shootout came, this time against Spain and once again, Ireland came out on top. “I’ve been asking the Dutch for three years for a bloody game and they won’t bloody play us, so they don’t have a choice now,” Ireland coach Graham Shaw joked after the match.

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