Last gasp Magee goal salvages French draw

FIH Champions Challenge II, Group B
Ireland 2 (G Watkins, E Magee) France 2 (M Catonnet 2)

Eugene Magee’s last second penalty corner rebound saw Ireland salvage a point from a frustrating afternoon in Lille as they bossed their tie with France, their second FIH Champions Challenge II match of the weekend.

Seeking to build on Saturday’s nervy 3-2 win over Scotland, Ireland dominated for long periods but found home goalkeeper Henri-Julien Lhomme in outstanding form.

Indeed, were it not for his heroics, the Irish could have repeated the six they put past his understudy Bastien Dierckens a week ago at the UCD Four Nations in Dublin.

Lhomme was drawn into a string of early stages with Mikey Watt, Peter Blakeney and Peter Caruth all forcing saves inside the opening ten minutes.

He was deceived by Gareth Watkins in the 17th minute, his reverse daisy-cutter skipping across his bows and it felt like the floodgates might open.

Ireland were again using their press to good effect with David Ames central to picking off plenty of possession in midfield to set advanced counter in motion.

With John Jermyn, Timmy Cockram and Alan Sothern all unavailable, it meant the set-piece was perhaps not as effective as usual as Blakeney, Conor Harte and Paul Gleghorne all had digs on target but comfortably saved.

But France withdrew from their shell and incredibly hit back twice in the closing two minutes of the half for a 2-1 interval lead. First, Matthieu Catonnet flipped one over David Harte after Gleghorne was robbed at right-back. And then Catonnet’s corner bullet-deflection found the inside of the left post on the half-time hooter for the go-ahead goal.

From there, the second half was all one-way traffic, Ireland running up a double figure total of penalty corners. Magee was introduced to the mix but the effect was the same while a Geoff McCabe was frustratingly palmed over.

Lhomme continued to be a thorn in the Irish side with Chris Cargo the next to draw a save though Caruth on the right post might have been the option.

A post also came into play with four minutes left just after Ronan Gormley’s second phase shot drew claims for a stroke and Lhomme picked off a triple save from Ireland’s eighth corner. The Irish continued to create, though, and earned two penalty corners. The first came with 65 seconds to go but the French wound time enough to see just 16 seconds on the clock before it was finally taken.

Conor Harte’s inital shot found a foot. From the next, his drag-flick from the latter was blocked on the line by Yannick Schambert –some in the crowd thought via his knee – but Magee popped up to knock in the rebound and secure a point and a share of the top of the group.

Speaking afterwards, Paul Revington was pleased that his side played right to the final whistle: “You can lose a game like this through a lack of perseverance but we stuck with right until the 70th minute so fair play to them. It’s the character that we want in this team,” he said.

“I’d be more annoyed if there weren’t opportunities. We’ll persevere to make sure we improve it but we’re pleased again that throughout the 70 minutes we’ve made enough opportunities and I’m confident we’ll continue to take them.”

Asked whether France may have been sitting deep to hide potential future tactics, skipper Gormley said there was not a huge amount to read into such an approach.

“I don’t think any team can go out to hold something back. In the next few matches, you don’t know what is going to happen. If you hold something back, you can look a little bit of the fool. You have to play tournament hockey and improve every match but you don’t go out to hold things back.”

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, G McCabe, R Gormley, M Watt, E Magee, P Caruth, P Blakeney, D Ames, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: C Cargo, A Giles, A McConnell, G Watkins, S Loughrey
DNP: D Fitzgerald, J Brennan
France: H-J Lhomme, T Genestet, H Genestet, J Jansen, F Magner, B Dierckens, Lu Sevestre, Y Schambert, F Scheefer, J-B Pauchet, V Migneau
Subs: M Catonnet, C Hauet, O Sanchez, A Becuwe, F Pourcelet

FIH Champions Challenge II, Group A results: Austria 4 (A Bele 2, G Jelinek, M Korper) Czech Republic 3 (D Vacek 2, T Prochazka); China 3 (Yubo Na, Xiantang Liu, Liguang E) USA 0
Standings: 1. China 6pts (+4) 2. Czech Republic 3pts (0) 3. Austria 3pts (0) 4. USA 0pts (-4)

Group B: Russia 4 (P Golubev, N Komarov, D Azarov) Scotland 2 (M Christie, A Forsyth); Ireland 2 (G Watkins, E Magee) France 2 (M Catonnet 2)
Standings: 1. France 4pts (+1) 2. Ireland 4pts (+1) 3. Russia 3pts (+1) 4. Scotland 0pts (-3)

** Stanislas Brochier’s photos from the game can be seen here. Reports from the days other games can be seen here. To hear some more of  Ronan Gormley’s thoughts on the game, click here

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