Men’s EuroHockey Junior Championships
Pool B: Ireland 1 (G Cole) Belgium 3 (H Raes 2, A Lemaire)
The Irish Under-21 men ended their EuroHockey Junior Championship group phase in third place following a battling 3-1 loss to Belgium in Valencia, meaning they will battle to avoid relegation on the weekend.
Despite the loss, coach Jonny Caren took the positives from the performance against a side featuring seven of the players that lined out in the Junior World Cup last December.
“Really happy with how the boys performed,” he said afterwards. “There was a lot of good hockey. Our game plan was to play through the pocket of Belgium and the midfield today was fantastic along with the service for the midfield.
“It got us on the ball higher up the pitch; we just need to get better in that final third which will really count in the next pool phase against Portugal where we are going to have to make those count.”
The tie saw a limited role for Keith O’Hare at the back while John Mullins was “a little freer” from his niggle that curtailed his involvement against Austria. Early on, the lively Fred Morris profited from a good advantage to lay back to Matthew Crookshanks whose sweep shot was well saved by Charles Masset in the third minute.
Belgium countered with a truly brilliant finish from Henri Raes to break the deadlock eight minutes in with a top corner rocket as the rain began to pour.
Ireland had their moments with Luke Madeley drawing another good stop from Masset while Jamie Carr kept out two drag-flicks in a strong performance between the posts.
Again, there was a big stroke decision. Madeley was adjudged to have blocked on the line with his foot rather than his stick; Caren said the video suggested otherwise: “We looked at it and its not a stroke – but that seems to be a common theme this tournament”.
Alexis Lemaire had no second thoughts to its legitimacy and flicked home for 2-0 at half-time. Ireland started the second half well and should have been bolstered when Fabrice van Bockrijk was shown yellow for a foul on Mark Samuel.
There was niggle and a physicality to both sides throughout and Madeley followed the Belgian to the sin-bin with a green. During the 10 v 10 spell, Raes made it 3-0 when his intended cross took a defensive stick to deflect in; 3-0 with 16 minutes to play.
Geoff Cole got one back within a minute from Julian Dale’s low drag-flick and Ireland pushed on for the guts of the closing quarter until both John Mullins and Madeley got yellows, taking the heat out of the tie.
It means Ireland go into the relegation pool with Austria with one point with upcoming games against Portugal and one of either Spain, the Netherlands or England.
Ireland: J Carr, L Madeley, K O’Hare, M Samuel, F Morris, R Getty, J Mullins, C Empey, J Dale, P McKibbin, M Crookshanks
Subs: K Marshall, S Grace, D Nelson, G Cole, D Mawhinney, S Wolfe, J Milliken
Belgium: C Masset, F van Bockrijk, L Sidler, A Lemaire, N Poncelet, T Willems, M Lambeau, H Raes, S Verhoeven, A Le Clef, A Kina
Subs: M Lootens, T van der Putten, R Delavignette, G Stockbroekx, L Capelle, M Loots