Ireland book place in EuroHockey semi-finals
Ireland have progressed to the semi-final of the Eurohockey Championships for the first time ever. In torrential rain and under the spot lights, Ireland took their chances and defended stoically to earn a draw with the world number four and current European silver medallists.
In doing so, Ireland pipped Belgium to second place in Pool B on goal difference and will take on either Netherlands or England in the semi-final on Thursday.
Belgium was the team on top for the opening phases of the match; enjoying 67% possession, shooting wide and drawing a save from Harte.
But the Green Machine settled into the game and quickly adapted to the Irish-like conditions. Shane O’Donoghue created the opening goal as he skilfully dragged the ball around his marker and dispatched across the circle to the awaiting Peter Caruth. Caruth fired the ball on goal to make it 1-0 to Ireland 3 minutes before half time.
Four minutes into the second half Harte was called into action to make a terrific save but Dockier was lurking in the circle and scored a diving goal to level the match. John Jackson, a constant threat throughout, made it 2-1 to the men in green five minutes later. A well-worked penalty corner routine saw Sothern slip the ball to O’Donoghue who dragged goal-ward before Jackson skilfully slapped home the deflected ball.
A minute later the Belgians took advantage of a loose aerial ball and broke into the circle, slight confusion amongst the defence saw the ball roll over the line. An Irish video referral didn’t affect the decision and it was 2-2 with 20 minutes to go.
The Irish cause was aided by a 10-minute yellow card for Boccard that perhaps looked a bit harsh in the replays.
The final few minutes saw the Belgians take off their goalie and put the Irish defence under constant pressure.
But discipline and structure again came to the forefront and a last minute penalty corner was run down terrifically by Man of the Match Caruth.
The draw means Ireland have achieved something never done before and have qualified for the Eurohockey Championship semis. In doing so they have also guaranteed their position in the top flight of European hockey.
Peter Caruth spoke after the match: “We knew it would come down to the wire today and we’ve practised for these situations. The EY Hockey League starting in Ireland is a big step up… and there’s a lot more people playing hockey in Ireland”.
Coach Craig Fulton hailed his team’s performance “There is a very small difference between success and failure , and today in difficult conditions we put in enough detail to get a big result in a major competition when it counted. A fantastic team performance, now onto the semis!”