EuroHockey Nations Championship, bronze medal match
Ireland 4 (S O’Donoghue 2, A Sothern, E Magee) England 2 (H Martin, A Dixon)
Making history, the recurring mantra of the Irish senior men’s team. An incredible year for the team was capped with the biggest moment yet, winning Ireland’s first ever medal at an elite level competition with a breathless 4-2 win over home host England.
Craig Fulton’s belief that his team would win was unshakeable before the tie. So much so, he conducted an interview with himself before the 4-2 win over England in London, practicing what he would say when, not if, his side got the better of the world number five side.
“Before the game, we were really confident. I came into the interview room and talked through an interview with myself as if we had won the game. This is how we played and how we won. I said we had scored two out of three corners. Today we scored three!
“It’s just reward for the performances from the guys,” Fulton added. “It’s no flash in the pan.”
Ranked 14, Ireland had never previously gone better than fifth in the 45-year history of the competition where four of the world’s top five teams lock horns.
The penalty corner machine worked a dream, netting a perfect three goals from three attempts. The first from Shane O’Donoghue cancelled out Harry Martin’s opening goal after a rickety opening phase for the green machine.
Adam Dixon restored England’s advantage from a clever corner deflection. Ireland rocked and rolled with John Jackson and David Harte making some incredible goal line clearances.
In attack, though, Ireland were clinical. Alan Sothern made it 2-2 at half-time with a wonderful piece of innovation to deceive Mark Gleghorne’s dive and wrong-foot George Pinner.
Eugene Magee then rifled into the top corner early in the second half to allow Ireland a glimpse of glory. Pinned back for long periods, Paul Gleghorne threw his body into every tackle, every interception.
Later, he revealed he was playing with a grade two tear in his shoulder sustained against the Dutch in the semi-final. Fulton said his man of the match performance was emblematic of his side’s performance.
“There was nothing that could stop him from playing; I couldn’t pull him off the field. When you have that belief and commitment in the group, you can do amazing things.”
Similarly, Ronan Gormley was severely hampered and could neither sweep or hit a ball on his open side without pain, giving Matthew Bell the chance to shine in an increased role, exuding composure in probably his best performance in green to date.
On a knife-edge until the final seconds, Ireland survived plenty of drama. Ashley Jackson’s corner flick did find the net via Peter Caruth’s backside and while the in-stadium music blared, the goal was chalked off.
The defence around the edge of the D was immense, a recurring theme and, when Pinner was withdrawn for an extra outfielder, O’Donoghue added an extra gloss three seconds from time from the penalty spot when Iain Lewers hauled down Kirk Shimmins for a penalty stroke.
It confirmed the medal and concluded the playing side of things for Ireland’s best ever year. They now wait on October 25 when they will find out if they qualify for the Olympic Games, dependent on the result of the Oceania Cup and African Cup of Nations.
It would be no less than Ireland deserve.