World League Round Three, 7th -8th place playoff
Ireland 6 (Conor Harte 2, Timmy Cockram, Chris Cargo, Shane O’Donoghue, Peter Caruth) France 4 (Martin Genestet, Guillaume Deront, Lucas Sevestre, Simon Martin-Brisac)
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Ireland produced a psychologically vital comeback win after a rough tournament in Rotterdam to end up matching their pre-tournament ranking.
Regrets, there will be plenty but the fact the side managed to somehow salvage this mad-cap win will offer some solace from what could have proven an unmitigated disaster.
Ireland were 4-0 down after 36 minutes with Conor Harte later describing it in the post-match interview as the “worst 40 minutes of hockey” that his side have played this tournament.
And yet with five minutes his side were right back in the mix and by the 63rd minute, he was firing Ireland into the lead with his second goal.
How this transpired is surely a mystery to the French who looked so assured before the break save for an early Alan Sothern chance that Matthias Dierckens did brilliantly to save at close quarters.
Matthieu Durchon, though, was whizzing down the right wing at a rate of knots and Ireland were back-pedalling long before Martin Genestet punched one into the ground and over David Harte for a 12th minute lead.
A rain delay – adorned by several tipsy members of the German women’s team who earlier won gold in the female equivalent tournament – could not slow their stride as Guillaume Deront got on the end of a pitch-length move, the origins of which came when Phelie Maguire missed a touch to level from Kyle Good’s ball across.
Lucas Sevestre added a drag-flick to Ireland’s bogey area, low down the glove side with the defence splitting town for a 3-0 deficit. A minute into the second half, it was four as Simon Martin-Brisac chipped away from two defenders and won the race to poke the ball past David Harte.
The mood look despondent, the twitter tales of depression and embarrassment abounding. Indeed the live stream commentator requested the tally of Ireland’s worst ever score against France, a 6-1 defeat in Dublin back in 2009, the last time Ireland have lost to the French with ten games being played in the intervening period.
But the response was summoned from deep and grew its roots in a corner routine that began to function. Conor Harte’s first was scrappy, the third phase after he and Peter Caruth had taken initial digs, he powered through a forest of legs for 1-4.
Timmy Cockram took the direct route and the vigour of celebratory fist pump laid bare the passion to turn this around. Caruth, who lives for baseline charges, barged his way in to lay on a simple finish for Chris Cargo with the sun suddenly becoming blindingly bright.
That was the third goal in five minutes and France were shell-shocked, scarcely able to comprehend what was happening as Ireland showed a swagger that has been forgotten for much of the week, zipping the ball around the park.
Caruth won another corner and this time Shane O’Donoghue found a beautiful spot in the top corner to level in the 56th minute. French skipper Frederic Verrier took a yellow for swinging out at Cargo while Lucas Sevestre’s game ended for a crude block on Caruth when he was clean through.
It followed an earlier green, leaving him the final ten minutes to stew over his actions. With France down to nine, a corner came which Conor Harte duly nailed low and true and they never looked like being caught from there.
France pulled their keeper but Dierckens replacement kicking back Francois Scheefer pulled off the save of the game when, overloaded, Ireland had a three on one but the bibbed-man got a boot to deny a Harte hat trick.
Umpire Bruce Bale blew his whistle for a stroke but, as kicking full-back, this was rescinded on review. No matter, Caruth won the bully and thumped into the open goal.
And that was that, a suitably odd ending to one of crazier games in Irish hockey memory that will help take a little of the edge off a punishing campaign.
** Interview piece with head coach Andrew Meredith and review of the World League Round Three tournament to follow on Sunday
** Unfortunately, the two photographers from the game left at half-time due to the torrential rain and so no celebration shots.
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, C Cargo, A Sothern, P Caruth, A McConnell, T Cockram, P Maguire, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: J Bell, M Watt, K Good, J Bruton, S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue,D Fitzgerald
France: M Dierckens, M Durchon, G Samson, F Verrier, J Jansen, G Baumgarten, V Lockwood, L Sevestre, F Scheefer, S Martin-Brisac, J-B Forgues
Subs: H Genestet, A Becuwe, B Dierckens, G Deront, M Genestet, V Migneau