Men’s senior international
Ireland 2 (C Harte, J Duncan) Pakistan 2 (M A Bilal, A Shan)
Conor Harte celebrated his 200th international appearance in style as he fired home a 17th minute penalty corner in Ireland’s 2-2 draw with Pakistan at Comber Road.
Speaking afterwards, he said “there may be some sibling banter” about the fact he reached the 200 cap mark ahead of his twin brother David. “I am sure David will be as happy for me as I will be for him to make it to this 200th.”Indeed, the two brothers made their debut at the Celtic Cup back in August 2006 in France, also the same day as their sister Emer made her debut for the Irish women.
Harte’s goal made it 1-1 before Pakistan edged back in front just before the break. But a fine second half performance, capped by Jeremy Duncan’s excellent goal, earned a share of the spoils in game one of their three-match series.
Pakistan went in front from a deflected penalty corner with Muhammad Aleem Bilal’s effort finding its way in. Harte replied in kind with a flick that made its way in off the inner thigh of goalkeeper Amjad Ali.
But the visitors returned to the lead two minutes before half-time when Ali Shan snapped up a rebound off David Harte’s pads after the keeper had denied Muhammad Dilber.
Ireland enjoyed their best spell in the third quarter, running up their corner count while Duncan was only denied by an excellent close-range stop from Amjad.
Duncan and Ireland did get his reward though in the closing five minutes from a scintillating move as Matthew Nelson hit Alan Sothern on the left baseline.
His quick pass found Duncan arriving at the back post to guide in the equaliser for 2-2.
Reflecting on the tie, Conor Harte added that it was a strong showing in the second half for a side that has only recently fully grouped together for their summer programme.
“We can’t expect miracles just coming together like we have,” he said. “We have a squad of 28 or 29 against a Pakistan team that has been travelling around, playing Australia and New Zealand four times.
“They have to peak in 10 days [for their World League semi-final] so to get competitive matches like this is fantastic for us. To play the way we did in the second half is testament to where we are going and how we are improving all the time.”
One of the facets of play that impressed was Ireland’s ability to work from the defensive platform into attacking positions with first time passes down the channels off powerful slaps from the centre.
After an even first half, it meant Ireland bypassed the traps laid by the Pakistani forwards.
“It’s the Asian way, trying to play for interceptions so if you go too long too early, it plays right into their hands. On the pitch, the movement of the ball felt pretty slick, as if we had been training for the last month together.”
John Jackson also impressed with some clever runs and distribution in what was his first Irish appearance since the Olympics. He returned along with Kirk Shimmins and Alan Sothern after breaks from the international scene.
Ireland play Pakistan again on Saturday at 2pm at the Hillsborough venue with a large number of changes already confirmed to the Irish line-up.
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, C Cargo, M Nelson, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, J McKee, S Loughrey, C Harte, K Shimmins
Subs: J Carr, M Bell, A Sothern, N Glassey, S Murray, J Duncan, L Cole
Pakistan: A Ali, B M Aleen, M Mushtaq, Rizwan Jr, M Abu, A Tasawar, Q M Arslan, Irfan Jr, A Khan, A Shan, Ajaz Ahmad, M Abbas, A Niwaz, U Bhutta, M Dilber, S A Butt, U Sarfraz, M Yaqoob
Umpires: R Donaldson, P Wright