EuroHockey Nations Championships semi-final
Ireland 0 Netherlands 1 (J Hertzberger)
Irish coach Craig Fulton felt his side “missed an opportunity” as they lost 1-0 to world number two side the Netherlands in the semi-final of the EuroHockey Nations Championships in London.
Jeroen Hertzberger’s simple back post tap in 12 minutes in was all that stood between the teams but, while the illustrious Dutch outfit did generally boss the play, Ireland hit the post twice in their bid to land yet another shock result.
The goal came in a nervy first quarter when Ireland were penned in their own defensive zone but they rallied well to limit the damage and grew into the tie. Mitch Darling subsequently cracked the inside of Jaap Stockman’s post while a tight-knit game plan, built on fast counter-attacks meant Ireland always held a menace in the tie.
It led to a rousing final quarter when Ireland pushed the accelerator. Kirk Shimmins won a penalty corner with a breathtaking run forward while John Jackson marauded into the circle only to see his effort ping off the outside of the goal with 90 seconds to go.
David Harte was not overly busy though he did produce one sensational triple save – twice from his Kampong club mate Robbert Kemperman – to keep Ireland in the tie while both sides had an ineffective corner each.
Reflecting on Ireland’s first ever European semi-final, Fulton said that his side was “too cautious” in the early phases which proved critical.
“I think we missed an opportunity, not for lack of trying. We didn’t start well and gave them a 15 minute bonus. I think they guys were nervous. From there, we pushed them hard and there’s not too many teams in this tournament who have done that to the last minute.”
It means that the route to the 2016 Olympics as continental champions is now closed but they are now next in line on the World League list. As a result, if Australia beat New Zealand in the Oceania Cup or South Africa win the African Nations Cup in October, Ireland will go to the Games for the first time since 1908.
Nonetheless, the narrow nature of the defeat added more weight to Ireland’s growing reputation as a potential world top ten side.
In 2015 alone, higher ranked Malaysia and Pakistan have been beaten while draws have been earned against world top five sides England and Belgium – earlier this week to land the semi-final spot – in major tournaments.
“The last 18 months, we have been pretty conscious that doing what we can with what we have got is about making history,” Fulton added.
“It proves the team is strong and on the up. Any high performance programme needs pieces of the puzzle to make it work and we need more time with the athletes to do that. We just need more real support and real [financial] backing and this team can do something really special. We have 10 or 11 full-time workers or students and a couple of players overseas so we can’t spend enough time together because of that.
“The last 18 months, we have been pretty conscious that doing what we can with what we have got is about making history. We want to win something soon and we want to do it with this really resilient group of people.
“If we do qualify for Rio, I hope we can put a real plan in; not just for 2016 but also for Tokyo. There is some real talent in Ireland and is a team to get behind.”
Ireland complete their tournament programme on Saturday afternoon with a bronze medal match at 2pm.
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, E Magee, K Shimmins, S O’Donoghue, M Darling, K Good, J Bruton, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: M Watt, A Sothern, P Caruth, M Bell, M Robson, C Cargo.
Netherlands: J Stockmann, V Verga, J Hertzberger, S de Wijn, R Kemperman, B de Voogd, R Hofman, R van der Horst, C Jonker, H Turkstra, M van der Weerden
Subs: G Schuurman, B Bakker, S van Ass, S Baart, M Pruijser, T Brinkman