Men’s Hockey World Cup
Pool B: Ireland 1 (S O’Donoghue) Australia 2 (B Govers, T Brand)
Shane O’Donoghue’s record equaling 93rd international goal was not quite enough as Ireland made life incredibly awkward for the world number one side but ultimately fell to a 2-1 defeat.
It was Ireland’s first goal at a World Cup since Billy McConnell in February 1990 and made it 1-1 in the 13th minute, cancelling out Blake Govers’ penalty corner drag two minutes earlier.
But Tim Brand’s follow-up finish to rebound his own initial shot won the day at a noisy Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in the 34th minute.
“It was a pity it was not more important as we are disappointed not to get something there,” was O’Donoghue assessment of his goal, something of a collector’s item in its own right such was its beauty.
“Bitterly disappointing,” he continued. “We had a very strong first half but didn’t match the intensity in the second. They brought it on to us in the second and we didn’t do the things we did in the first to give us that solid platform.
“These games are about execution at the right times. Unfortunately, our basics let us down once or twice.”
It was a fair take on a bruising game in which Ireland worked very closely to the game plan laid out by coach Alexander Cox, saying beforehand he was not afraid for Ireland to get down into the trenches to slow the famously speedy Kookaburra attack.
Ireland started well with Jonny Bell’s surprising dummy down the left creating a huge chance in the early minutes with Sean Murray and Matthew Nelson denied by Andrew Charter in the aftermath.
Australia took the lead from their only chance of the first quarter, though. Umpire Paco Vazquez initially awarded a penalty stroke when a David Harte save hit Paul Gleghorne but while the video review downgraded it to a penalty corner, Blake Govers – who averages over 1.2 goals a game – whizzed in a high drag-flick.
O’Donoghue replied quickly, Sean Murray weaving the chance with a drifting run and slipping under his left shoulder a delicious pass. It invited the midfielder to race through where he chipped the ball up to chest height and then popped over Charter’s elbow.
Gleghorne did have to dig another one off the line after a duffed penalty corner routine but the half-time mood was positive with Australia only belatedly finding pockets of space in the deep press.
Ultimately, Australia began to squeeze the life out of Ireland’s forward momentum in the third quarter and they got in front from a pitch length move.
Brand robbed the ball 75 metres from goal and tore forward, offloading to Corey Weyer who then picked him out with a pin-point reverse pass. David Harte – who was exceptional – saved his first chance but the ball fell invitingly for a rebound finish and 2-1.
Further goals were prevented via a series of brave tackles from Nelson – who became the youngest Irish player to reach 50 caps – Paul Gleghorne and Jonny Bell who used his cricket skills to good effect to deflect one over the bar.
At the far end, things did not quite stick. O’Donoghue’s surging run ended with his pass slipping through Alan Sothern’s clutches. A Nelson cross clipped Jeremy Hayward’s leg but a possible corner was ruled out by video for use of the backstick in the build-up and so the final golden chance did not come.
“It was a day when we could have got a result against the world number one.,” Cox said afterwards. “I am really proud of the performance and we were in the game until the final whistle
“Until the last phase, we kept doing what we needed to do, slowing the game down, waiting for our opportunity to accelerate.
“The second half was difficult to put more pressure on their defence and on the ball but what we needed to do, was excellent. In the first half, I think we were the better team and so on that part, I am happy.
“The guys put their body on the line for the result and for the team. It’s difficult against the Aussies because they are physically powerful, play a high pace game. It calls for a lot of physical power.”
Cox did pay tribute to the influence of O’Donoghue in being able to bring that something extra to the table: “He is like our quarter-back. He controls the field. From midfield, he can speed up the attack when we need to but also slow it down.
“It was an amazing goal and we need things like that. We will not create a crazy amount of chances [against the likes of Australia] so we need something special to come off.”
Later in the day, England spurned a series of chances as they drew 2-2 with China – Ireland’s next opponents. With the nature of the day’s games, Ireland will not be likely to fear either upcoming group opponent unduly should they put in a strong performance.
Ireland: D Harte, J Bell, C Cargo, M Nelson, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, M Darling, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey
Subs: M Bell, A Sothern, K Shimmins, M Robson, D Walsh, L Cole, D Fitzgerald
Australia: A Charter, C Weyer, E Ockenden, J Whetton, B Govers, T Howard, M Swann, D Beale, T Mitton, T Brand, J Hayward
Subs: T Craig, J Harvie, M Dawson, F Ogilvie, D Wotherspoon, T Lovell
Umpires: P Vazquez (ESP), J van ’t Hek (NED)