Irish men fall agonisingly short of first ever Euro semi-final

Men’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships
Ireland 2 (S O’Donoghue 2) England 2 (T Carson 2)

A Shane O’Donoghue and Peter Caruth-inspired comeback came up just short as Ireland fell agonisingly short of the win they needed against England to reach a first ever European Championship semi-final.

The damage was done in the first half as Tom Carson nicked in to score two close range goals. O’Donoghue tied things up with his third and fourth goals of the tournament – both from the penalty spot – setting up a thrilling last 13 minutes.

EuroHockey 2013But the breaks did not go Ireland’s way as Michael Hoare somehow got a touch to deny Mikey Watt while another deflection flashed inches wide with two minutes to go.

It added another painful chapter for this emerging team. Last year, they were only ousted from the Olympics by world number sevens Korea with seven seconds to go. This time, the world number four side were rattled by an Irish side ranked 11 places lower but the killer moment slipped through their fingers.

Much of the post-match analysis focused on a first half in which the greens held most of the territory and possession but were sucked in by a meticulous English counter-attack game.

It meant that while the stats were against them, they were far more effective, creating numerous overload situations with regular three-on-three and two-on-two match-ups. After Ireland had started decently, Carson scored in the seventh minute from just his side’s second attack, getting a slight touch to David Condon’s shot just in front of David Harte.

Eleven minutes later, Barry Middleton worked some magic down the right and his bouncing cross was turned in again by Carson. For the most part, they sat deep and compact, allowing little space in their own 22 before Richard Smith and Iain Lewers launched big overheads or raking passes forward to their front runners.

EuroHockey 2013As an upshot, the tactic meant Ireland won a couple of corners and conceded few but England were able to find more space in the attacking circle.

In the second half, though, Ireland tightened up the loose ends and while the chances did not fully flow, Caruth and Watt produced some inspired moments.

Ireland got a lifeline 19 minutes from the end when Conor Harte’s shot was stopped on the line by an English body. England protested vehemently with George Pinner claiming he had stopped the shot with his glove but they had lost their video review in the fourth minute. Shane O’Donoghue sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the ensuing penalty stroke.

Watt and Kyle Good then won stroke number two six minutes later after Watt had cut back from the baseline and was hacked down in the shooting stride. The protests came again as England felt the ball went over the endline prior to the crucial tackle.

Again, O’Donoghue was made to wait but implacably picked his spot again, setting up a monumental last 13 minutes. Caruth’s baseline run down the left drew a foot but he played and crossed for Watt but Hoare managed his crucial touch to clip it clear of the forward with the goal waiting.

Conor Harte then smashed a ball into the circle that took the slightest touch to skid inches wide of the post. It was panicked stuff as the ball would not sit for the Irish forwards as they pressed hard for the critical third goal.

EuroHockey 2013The draw meant Ireland missed out on semi-final qualification on goal difference, one behind England in the group’s final reckoning.

They will now contest Pool C hoping to equal their best ever finish of fifth place with games against the Czech Republic and either Spain, Belgium or Germany.

** Photos from Frank Uijlenbroek/IHA, for more click here

** To view the Live Blog from today’s game, click here

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

England: G Pinner, H Weir, S Mantell, A Brogdon, M Hoare, A Dixon, B Middleton, I Lewers, N Catlin, D Fox, R Smith
Subs: B Arnold, O Willars, H Martin, D Shingles, D Condon, T Carson, J Bailey
Umpires: N Stagno (GIB), J Wright (RSA)

Irish coach Andrew Meredith: “Extremely disappointing. We played for long periods with complete control of that game. They played surprisingly deep given the distance in the world rankings but, nonetheless, I thought we distributed the ball well. We weren’t as effective as the English in the first half. As a game progressed, the statistics were heavily in our favour but what we was frustrating is we couldn’t get that goal.

Irish captain John Jackson: “That was essentially a quarter-final for us. The most disappointing thing for us was our first half performance. We identified England’s key areas of attack where they like to smack balls into the circle, which is dangerous, and we didn’t do that job very well. To go 2-0 down was a blow.

Shane O’Donoghue on holding his nerve from two penalty strokes: “I’m there to do a job and if that is to put it into the back of the net, that’s what I will do. It is bitterly disappointing. We needed a win, we didn’t get it. We gave it everything but just fell short.”

EuroHockey 2013Meredith on the game’s tactics: “They identified what we were trying to do in the first half and countered that. We still had lots of circle penetrations and statistically, in both halves, we were ahead of them. The key areas were seven metres in front of the goal and we weren’t good enough in those areas. Defensively, we identified that’s where most of their goals come from. We didn’t pick up these guys and it cost us.

English coach Bobby Crutchley: “I’ve got to sack my performance analyst because his stats don’t match up with Andrew’s! We have to be compact because we are a new team and we need to make ourselves difficult to beat. Generally, we’ve got better at doing that. But the second half, we turned over the ball too much when we had good rhythm.

“I wouldn’t look at stats too much. We had the same amount of circle entries as the Dutch in the Olympic semi-final [which ended 9-2]”

On their potential semi-final opposition: “We’ll either play Belgium who are playing the best hockey here or Germany who are past masters at getting through and playing their best hockey at the end of the tournament. Neither is a great option but we are in the semi-finals so we’ll take that but we are very much the underdogs of the four.”

Netherlands 12 (R Kemperman 4, C Jonker 3, V Verga, J Hertzberger, T Jenniskens, S van Ass, B Bakker) Poland 0
A blistering second half saw the Netherlands complete the initial Group B phase of their TriFinance EuroHockey Championships bid with a flourish, blowing away Poland.

They found the going tough in the first half as Poland defended in numbers and trailed by the minimum at the break. The only goal came from Robbert Kemperman who mopped up after Pawel Bratkowski saved an effort off the line.

But the second half was very different with Valentin Verga starting the run of goals. Tim Jenniskens touched Rogier Hofman’s shot for 3-0 before Kemperman added another couple of goals. Jeroen Hertzberger made it six before Seve van Ass a pair from Constantijn Jonker progressed the advantage to 9-0.

Kemperman brought it to double-figures with his fourth goal of the game and Bakker completed the rout. It gives the Dutch a boost before they play Germany in the semi-finals.

Standings: 1. Netherlands 9pts (+14) 2. England 4pts (+2) 3. Ireland 4pts (+1) 4. Poland 0pts (-17)

Partners of The Hook