We’ll have to settle for only the one Irish hockey fairytale this year…
The Irish Men’s side was not able to emulate the heroics of their female counterparts, having been dumped out of the Men’s Hockey World Cup at the group stage this afternoon.
Alexander Cox’s side went into their final round-robin game with England, in the knowledge that a draw would send both sides through to the crossover matches, after run-away leaders Australia spanked China 11-0 in Friday’s earlier encounter.
But it wasn’t to be, as a gallant Irish side fell 4-2 after an action-packed second half in Bhubaneswar.
England took the lead with twenty seconds left of the first quarter. It was David Condon with the assured finish, making great contact from just inside the semi-circle, after Will Calnan drove to the byline down the right before cutting back.
As the men in green continually kept coming up against a red wall in the shape of the English defence, Danny Kerry’s side had the chance to forge further clear when captain Ian Sloan, born and bred in Cookstown, suddenly found himself eyeballing Irish keeper and opposing skipper, David Harte. But the Tyrone native fired over with Harte advancing.
The third quarter proved manic.
First, Chris Cargo equalised for the Irish. After a beautifully worked team move, the Newtownards man passed the ball into the bottom corner with English goalie, George Pinner, maybe distracted by Michael Darling who was at close quarters.
Parity didn’t last long however, as Liam Ansell restored the English advantage with a marvellous individual effort, spinning Matthew Bell before unleashing a thunderous tomahawk past Harte.
But it wasn’t long until the crosses of St. George were on show again, as inside a minute England were back in front.
Ireland, competing at only their third World Cup and their first since 1990, were determined not to be on an premature flight back home, and were immediately back on the attack, and forced a penalty corner at the other end. It was Sean Murray who set the ball, before Shane O’Donoghue finished superbly to top bins, wide of Pinner’s outstretched left glove. The Dublin man, not only restoring hope, but becoming the country’s all-time leading scorer in the process, notching his 94th goal in green.
David Ames smashed the ball into the Irish penalty area, with a quick free, his rocket meeting the outstretched stick of James Gall and diverting past a helpless Harte.
It was simple. Ireland needed to win the fourth quarter to survive, and were indebted to Cork native Harte, who was proving a one-man goal-stopping machine at the other end, thwarting English attempts to kill the game off, with hand and foot.
But it was at the other end where it needed to count, and the Irish let two penalty corner opportunities go a-begging, when the other Harte twin, Conor, slipped when shooting, and Darling blazed a rebound over the bar, when Pinner saved from Alan Sothern.
Try as they might, Ireland couldn’t break the English resistance. Harte was sacrificed to get an extra outfield-player on in the dying minutes, but when Antrim man Paul Gleghorne was given a yellow card, it was a poignant irony, when brother Mark, playing in the red of the opposing side, finished to an empty net from a penalty corner on the buzzer.