Men’s international test match
Ireland 1 (S O’Donoghue) USA 2 (K Kaeppler, W Holt)
Ireland’s men fell to something of a surprise loss to USA at Belfield as two goals in the closing eight minutes saw them succumb to the visitors.
Nine previous meetings had seen nine Irish wins and Thursday’s 5-1 hammering suggested more of the same was in order, particularly when Shane O’Donoghue broke the deadlock.
But Kei Kaeppler and Will Holt turned things around to nick a 2-1 result for the side, a very rare defeat against a side ranked lower than Ireland in the world at 26.
The hosts looked comfortable for much of the fixture. John McKee picked up a long pass from Paul Gleghorne and darted along the baseline but his shot went into the side netting.
Stuart Loughrey followed up with an equally pin-point pass across the circle to O’Donoghue but his reverse strike went inches past the post.
Kei Kaeppler – one of a trio of German-based players – was a creative spark for the USA and broke into the circle and drew a good close range save from Jamie Carr.
Three penalty corners for the Green Machine broke the deadlock when O’Donoghue rifled the ball low into the corner to get his side off the mark.
The second half evened out in terms of possession and chances but it was Ireland who came closest first when O’Donoghue saw his reverse strike well saved by Jonathan Klages.
Sean Murray then got himself free from his marker in the circle but his shot skimmed past the post.
America, though, kept plugging away and got a superb equalizer. Kei Kaeppler picked up the ball at the top of the circle and sent a volley on the reverse into the top corner.
Ireland pulled Mark Ingram from their goal and opted for a kicking back but the move didn’t pay off when Americans won their first penalty corner of the game.
Holt got his side the winner in the dying minutes when he picked up the initial PC drag deflection and fired into the open goal.
Ireland were, for the second game running, coached by John Bessell. The Australian Bessell was brought in to help the panel on an assistant basis in May by Craig Fulton.
The head coach departed just a few weeks later, though, and with Jonny Caren with the Irish Under-23s in Antwerp and Kai de Jager unavailable, Bessell was the last man standing to run the side.
“Craig Fulton got me over from Belgium where I had been working for 10 years,” Bessell told The Hook in the wake of the first game of this series. “He asked me to join the staff as an assistant coach and then a couple of weeks later he moved to Belgium!
“Weird situation but I am enjoying working with the guys. It’s unique and a funny time being here while they are interviewing for the head coach!
“We’re slowly, slowly building extra little things into our game for the World Cup.”
He added that he is aware Hockey Ireland have conducted interviews this week for Fulton’s replacement with November’s World Cup fast approaching.
Bessell holds a full-time club role with Daring in Belgium and so has ruled himself out of the full-time job as he believes the best person would be primarily based in Ireland.
“I’m not sure which way Hockey Ireland will go but I think they need someone on the ground here in Ireland to make sure everything runs structurally well.
“There’s a lot of talent. But with 16 or 17 of the squad playing in Holland, Belgium and Germany next year, it would work well to have me on the ground [in Belgium] and Kai [in Holland], it will help us train the boys as we can’t do a full-time programme here [right now].”
In Belgium, Bessell previously coached Royal Leopold to qualify for the EHL, reaching the KO16 in 2016 before coming unstuck to a Rob van der Horst wonder goal.
He has also done analytical work for the Belgian national team in the lead-up to both London and Rio Olympics but is enjoying the role with Ireland.
“It’s good get away from the camera and computer and be more hands-on time with the boys!”
The next phase of the Olympic qualifying process was given a slightly clearer outline on Friday. The Hockey Series Finals for men will be held, for the men, in France and Malaysia and one other venue to be confirmed.
The women will go either Japan, Spain or one other venue to be confirmed.
Ireland: J Carr, L Madeley, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J McKee, M Darling, P Gleghorne, J Duncan, L Cole, S Loughrey
Subs: J Bell, M Nelson, O Magee, D Walsh, S Cole, M Ingram
USA: J Klages, P Harris, A Grassi, W Holt, A Dhadwal, T Barratt, K Kaeppler, S Cicchi, J Orozco, A Kaeppeler, M Gandhi
Subs: K Barber, C de Angelis, J Kentwell