Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Ireland 1 (John Jermyn) Malaysia 1 (Nabil Fiqri)
John Jermyn hailed it “the most important” drag-flick he had ever scored. Should Sunday go to plan, his 60th minute ripper may not last too long at that status as Ireland now have a bumper, winner takes all shot at their first Olympic Games in over a century.
It cancelled out Nabil Fiqri’s diving effort from early in the second half as Malaysia threatened to spoil the party in front of a packed house at Belfield, earning the draw required to join Korea in the final.
As results go, it was more than just, Ireland producing their most mature quarter of the campaign to date, bossing the closing 17 minutes with a performance of control and endeavour.
Malaysia were run ragged, losing their composure as well as the services of Madzli Ikmar, Mohd Fitri Saari and Muhammad Marhan to the naughty chair for ill-discipline.
Had Ireland’s corner routine functioned more serenely, it could have been more comfortable but one was enough as Jermyn evaded first runner Baljit Singh and planted the ball over the post-man’s head for a sublime equaliser.
Break-neck speed throughout, the early patterns saw Ireland break past the initial lines of the Malaysian three quarter press but found space tighter around the edge of the circle, patrolled brilliantly by Singh.
Mitch Darling did draw a neat save from Kumar Subramaniam before the first corner was won while Timmy Cockram should have opened the scoring after David Ames’ battling laid the ball on an unexpected plate. He blazed wide from six yards.
Jermyn’s first drag seemed destined for the top corner but Subramaniam flailed a stick out and got the ball to safety but the Asian side – similar to each tie to date – regrouped and improved as time went on, requiring David Harte to be vigilant at his near post.
Eugene Magee went close to the goal of the tournament with simply breath-taking 3d skills from the right but his shot veered just off target. Cargo, superb in the press, drew two more saves before the half was out.
Paul Gleghorne’s central defensive partnership with Ronan Gormley stayed water-tight, too, until just before that interval when Tengku Abdul Jalil wriggled free but horribly mishit his shot.
It left the crowd upbeat but nervous of a sucker-punch and despite McConnell winning another corner, when Ian Sloan was binned for a stick tackle, that eventuality came true.
Malaysia resorted to their preferred free in strategy, a roll back outside the 25 for Mohamad Sukri to whizz a diagonal ball to the back post. It lasered in on Nabil Fiqri who dove to deflect and the ball scrambled through Harte’s defences.
From there, Ireland’s play was tetchy and erratic, corners won interspersed by loose passes. But he genesis of the late rally appeared to coincide with injury to Faizal Saari. The striker’s withdrawal was incidental but allowed a 30-second team meeting from which Ireland appeared to tighten up the screws on an edgy phase of play.
David Ames might have been awarded a stroke when Marhan threw himself onto his shot but just a corner ensued but the Malaysian lunges were becoming more pronounced and when Fitri was next to go with a yellow, it was go-time.
John Jackson – awarded the official man of the match in the place of the other JJ after a mix up between produced and commentary team – won the sixth corner which his initials-sake duly raised the roof with.
The dynamic was inexorably changed and Marhan’s silly card for knocking the ball away from an Irish free compounded matters. It was an easy ride until the final whistle bar Baljit Singh messing up an inviting free hit with 22 seconds left which could have caused havoc but Ireland took a deserved result and stand within touching distance of London.
Ireland: David Harte, John Jackson, Geoff McCabe, Ronan Gormley, Mikey Watt, Eugene Magee, Ian Sloan, Mitch Darling, David Ames, Paul Gleghorne, Stu Loughrey
Subs: Chris Cargo, John Jermyn, Peter Caruth, Andy McConnell, Timmy Cockram
Malaysia: Kumar Subramaniam, Muhammad Marhan, Madzli Ikmar, Faizal Saari, Sharun Nabil, Mohamad Sukri, Azlan Misron, Nabil Fiqri, Muhammad Razie, Baljit Singh, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin
Subs: Muhammad Amin, Fitri Saari, Izwan Firdaus, HafifiHafiz Hanafi, Azreen Rizal