First Olympic win keeps Ireland Hockey's knockout hopes alive
AFTER suffering narrow defeats to India and Germany, and a 5-0 humbling at the hands of the Netherlands, the Ireland men's hockey team were finally able to record their first Olympic victory in over 100 years.
The Green Machine, who are competing in their first Olympic Games since 1908, saw out a historic 4-2 win over Canada in Rio, keeping their hopes of progressing to the quarter finals alive in the process.
Goals from Mitch Darling, Peter Caruth and a Shane O’Donoghue brace was enough to take the points, despite a late surge from Canada.
O’Donoghue got Ireland off to a flyer, netting a from a penalty corner after only 56 seconds of the opening quarter.
With Kyle Good winning the penalty corner from Ireland's first circle penetration, O’Donoghue stepped up and rattled his drag flick off the underside of the bar and into the goal, with the Canadian 'keeper well beaten for pace.
Ireland, buoyed by the early lead, dominated the remainder of the first period of play, with Canada struggling to cope with the quick pace brought by the boys in green.
Mikie Watt showed great skill to earn Ireland's second penalty corner, beating three defenders on his way into the circle. But O’Donoghue's flick was off the mark.
Canada were able to get a foothold on the game in the second quarter, but wasted a series of penalty corner opportunities as they were unable to find a way past David Harte.
Ireland's structured defence proved difficult to break down with Canada resorting to forced balls into the circle, hoping for outcomes rather than fashioning them.
Ireland showed more patience in attack, content with keeping possession while looking to carve Canada open with slick passing and impressive individual skill.
Ireland's patient build up paid off as a give-and-go between John Jackson and Mikie Watt saw the former find a Canadian foot in the circle with two minutes left in the first half.
O’Donoghue was on the mark again with his drag flick, this time finding the top right corner for his second of the game.
Peter Caruth then extended Ireland's lead to three a minute later with an emphatic sliding effort.
Mikie Watt was involved again as his backhand effort on goal was parried by the Canadian keeper, only for Caruth to bat the ball in, one-handed and sliding at full stretch, at the back post.
The start of the second half brought with it a purple patch for Canada, who fashioned an early chance in a congested circle, with David Harte eventually able to scramble the ball past the post.
The Canadian pressure soon turned into goals, as they managed to claw one back through their captain, Scott Tupper.
Good interplay down the left flank stretched the Irish defence, allowing a centring ball to reach an unmarked Tupper at the top of the circle. In acres of space, the Canadian captain had time to take a touch, pick his spot and rifle the ball into the bottom corner of Harte's net.
With the deficit reduced to two, Canada continued to press Ireland and looked the more likely to score.
With ten minutes remaining, Canada reduced arrears to a minimum after a composed Matthew Guest worked his way to the Irish baseline before finding the foot of Kirk Shimmins.
Tupper was on hand to convert the resultant penalty corner, setting up a tense finish to the game.
Canada continued to create chances, with Ireland relying on an acrobatic goal line clearance from captain Ronan Gormely to keep their narrow lead intact.
With four minutes to go, Ireland gave themselves some breathing room. Mitch Darling was able to shovel the ball over the line after good play in the circle from Chris Cargo, with a Canadian defender only managing to clear the ball after it had crossed the goal line.
Desperate to get something out of the game, Canada pulled their goalkeeper, replacing him with an extra outfield player.
The added Canadian attacker failed to disrupt a structured Irish defence, as the boys in green kept possession and wound the clock down.
As the final whistle rang around the ground, Irish attention quickly turned to their final Pool B match, with another result required for the Green Machine to stay in the tournament.
For Ireland to progress to the quarter finals they must beat Argentina, who sit two points above them, tomorrow evening.
Penalty corner specialist, Gonzalo Peillat, will be seen as the main threat to Ireland's progression.
With Peillat having already notched up four goals in Rio, the Green Machine will have to limit the number of set piece opportunities they allow the Argentineans if they are to make it to the knockout stages.