Paul Revington paid tribute to an immaculate closing 15 minutes as Ireland grittily reeled in the Malaysian lead to earn the draw they merited to go at least one step further than four years ago, facing Korea for the 11th confirmed berth in the men’s tournament at the London Olympics.
The margins are always tight. In New Zealand back then, Ireland came up a goal short against Argentina, chasing a second goal in their fifth and final group game.
This time around, the composure shown was tangible, converting a loose post-concession phase into one of real quality, something the Irish coach attributed to the leadership qualities within the playing ranks.
“What happened in the last 15 minutes is an example of the leadership in the group,” he said. “From the last 18 months, that leadership group has made all the decisions that have pushed this team to where they are. The pressure they were under was not viewed as pressure; it was decision-making, organisation and clear heads.”
With Conor Harte out for the tournament, Paul Gleghorne and Ronan Gormley were called to play the vast majority of time in the pressure cooker of the centre backs with less rotation than normal.
Their performances were next on the agenda for credit, keeping Malaysia to no corners and few real clear-cut openings.
“The two that played at the middle at the back were really terrific. The fact we didn’t concede a corner is a really great effort in a game Malaysia had to win.
“We’re at home, physically a super strong side and the two together provide a strong combination. David Harte made one or two saves but you look at the corner count, the number of chances we had as well, I would say the draw was not necessarily a reflection of the way the game went.”
That it did not end in an Irish win could be pinned mostly on corner conversion, though, as a return of one from seven will be a worry.
“It was a combination of the keeper making a couple of really good saves, the first wave runner took a really good line. We’ll look at that but, at the end of the day, John Jermyn has flicked at a stage when everyone could have been a little jittery. He stood tall and will be doing the same tomorrow.”
As for Jermyn, himself, he was the self-belief that it will not be an issue: “I felt the corners were going quite well. Personally, I was happy enough with my first flick but it was a good save.
“[The winner] would be up there, probably the most important of my career. We stuck to our game plan, pushed on to the end and piled on the pressure and it paid off.
“Honestly, I think the lads are quite fresh. We played them on Tuesday and our performance wasn’t the greatest. Anytime you draw 1-1 having not played well, that gives you confidence for the final.”
Indeed, the significance of Sunday’s final against Korea was not lost on Revington with journalists upping the ante, calling it the biggest game in Irish history but what better motivation came his reply.
“I don’t think we feel the weight of history on our shoulders. I think the excitement to change history is really what is driving us forward.”
** Sunday’s schedule:
Final: Ireland vs Korea, 4pm – live on RTE televsion, delayed coverage on Setanta at 8.15pm
3rd/4th playoff: Russia vs Malaysia, 1.30pm
5th/6th playoff: Ukraine vs Chile, 11am