“It’s all a bit surreal and indescribable. We have given an Irish team the best possible chance to qualify for an Olympic Games,” David Harte’s initial reaction in the wake of Ireland’s 4-1 win over Malaysia.
“It’s out of our hands but we have done everything we had to do as a national team to try and get to the Olympic Games – fingers crossed everything falls into place.”
He was reflecting on a high octane performance, one in which Ireland counter-attacked with rapier-fast incisions but paid much more attention to getting their defensive rigidity in order.
The first pool game against Malaysia was Ireland’s weakest showing, a 4-2 defeat in which the side felt they missed their potential. But Sunday’s fifth place playoff was a different matter.
“You saw our intent early on,” Harte said. “We had to improve our start [compared to the pool game] and put them on the back foot. We lost it a bit in the second quarter but defensively, we came to the fore.”
His twin brother Conor has been absent for the past couple of games since sustaining ligament damage to his shoulder. While he warmed up tentatively, he played no part on the pitch, meaning longer stints for the remaining defenders.
“It was incredibly unfortunate to lose Conor, a player of his ability – similar to the last Olympic qualifier – but Ronan Gormley, John Jackson, everyone who played at the back was supreme.”
Jackson echoed those sentiments, saying: “The improvements we made since the pool stage, we made some big defensive changes. We were put under a lot of pressure and we always knew it would the thing that got us fifth place and hopefully that Road to Rio.”
Jackson said that he is “90%” hopeful that the ticket will be confirmed in due course.
“Winning two massive, back-to-back games, I am absolutely ecstatic. Where this result takes us, we are still unsure and until that moment comes, my emotions will remain at about 90%.
“Hopefully, in the next few weeks we will have a better picture and can start putting in our preparations to make sure we do ourselves justice in Rio.”