Captain Fantastic salvages Irish A status, averting Czech disaster

Men’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships
Ireland 3 (C Harte, S Loughrey, J Jackson) Czech Republic 3 (L Plochy, S Bernatek, O Vudmaska)

Stuart Loughrey and skipper John Jackson’s equaliser ten minutes from time dragged Ireland out of a huge hole to secure their status in the top tier of European hockey for 2015 in dramatic fashion.

With Spain beating Poland 4-1 in the day’s early game, it meant Ireland needed only a draw against the previously winless Czech Republic. But Ireland were left on the brink of relegation before coming back from 3-1 down with 12 minutes to eventually get the result they needed.

EuroHockey 2013The form guide between the two sides would never have suggested such a saga. Ireland had won five of the six meetings between the sides including a 7-2 and 9-0 win last year and a 10-0 outcome when the sides last met in European action in 2007.

The one omen from that day, however, was both sides were relegated and a disastrous first half nearly meant a similar outcome.

Ronan Gormley’s dithering allowed Lukas Plochy to nip and the back-tracking Bruce McCandless turned in his intended cross. That came in the fourth minute and, soon after, Stepan Bernatek got a brilliant second, picking out the top corner with a near post deflection.

Conor Harte got one back in the 17th minute from a corner that appeared to steady the nerves somewhat as Ireland controlled much of the ball.

But the Czechs were physically aggressive and backed up by a top drawer goalkeeper in Filip Neusser. Shane O’Donoghue tested his resolve with a powerful rocket that stung through his chest protector though the better option might have been a slip to either Cargo or Caruth waiting on either post.

The frustration continued into the second period with decent possession not turned into tangible opportunity. And the game looked to be up when Martin Babicky was set free down the right and laid on a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Ondrej Vudmaska.

EuroHockey 2013He provided a sublime first time finish, chipping into the top corner from a 45 degree angle to leave Ireland in disarray at 3-1.

Spurred by stirring words from Jackson, however, Ireland kept pushing forward. Peter Caruth’s cross found the unlikeliest of finishers as Loughrey – coming forward from the back – bravely dove full-length to flip the ball over the towering goalkeeper Filip Neusser.

A speculative Czech video replay for back-stick was dismissed and Ireland had 12 minutes to salvage the draw. The took just three of them as a lunging tackle on O’Donoghue outside the circle drew a penalty corner.

It was switched left to Jackson and made Neusser scurry across his goal line. The Reading-bound defender plunged the shot through the goalkeeper’s legs and the Irish crowd erupted.

The Czechs seemed happy enough to play out their first ever point in the top tier of this competition and so no major heartache came to pass in the closing stages.

The result nudged Ireland just ahead of Poland, ending the week-long campaign in sixth place a result that coach Andrew Meredith says will have far-reaching benefits.

“It is vital for the squad looking at 2014 and the qualification for Rio,” he said. It ensures Ireland remain in the world’s top 16, meaning they skip straight to the second phase in the Olympic qualification process while also ensures more regular competition against the world’s top nations to test his emerging young panel.

EuroHockey 2013He also paid testament to the resolve shown by his panel. In the past few months, the side came from 4-0 down to beat France while also bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit on Wednesday against world number four side England to draw.

“It’s great character and heart. You see the guys come in at 18-years-old who show the same character and fire, making interceptions and running things down as the guys who had the guys with the most caps. That’s a really great platform to work from.”

** Photos courtesy of Frank Uijlenbroek, for more click here

** To read the live blog from Ireland vs Czech Republic, click here

** Interview piece with Andrew Meredith and John Jackson to follow in due course

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, M Watt, C Cargo, E Magee, P Caruth, B McCandless, C Harte, P Brown, S O’Donoghue
Subs: J Bell, S Cole, K Shimmins, M Darling, K Good, S Loughrey, D Fitzgerald

Czech Republic: F Neusser, T Jahoda, M Hanus, T Prochazka, S Bernatek, O Vudmaska, M Babicky, D Piterak, J Kyndl, L Plochy, R Kotrc
Subs: R Nicklas, M Lehovec, T Vohnicky, T Pauer, M Capouch, M Krysl, P Chrpa

Spain 4 (E Tubau 2, P Quemada, M Delas) Poland 1 (P Bratkowski)
Spain confirmed fifth place in the TriFinance EuroHockey Championships with a third strong win, comfortably seeing off Poland in the first game of the final day in Boom.

Pau Quemada’s low drag flick – following Roc Oliva’s clever run to win a penalty corner – put them 1-0 up. Edi Tubau extended the lead just seconds before the half-time hooter with a smart reverse-stick shot.

EuroHockey 2013Tubau scored his second of the day – and sixth of the competition – soon after the break from the penalty spot. Poland got one back via Pawel Bratkowski’s drag-flick but Miquel Delas completed the win with nine minutes to go, touching in Oliva’s clever cross.

Men’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships
Pool C results:
Spain 4 Poland 1; Ireland 3 (C Harte, S Loughrey, J Jackson) Czech Republic 3 (L Plochy, S Bernatek, O Vudmaska)
Standings: 1. Spain 9pts (+12) 2. Ireland 4pts (-2) 3. Poland 3pts (-2) 4. Czech Republic 1pt (-8)

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