Olympic qualifier target achieved but Irish reflect on low-key end to FIH Series campaign

Men’s FIH Series final
Ireland 1 (S Murray) France 3 (V Charlet 2, B Rogeau)

When the dust settles, the Irish men can reflect on a decent week’s work in Le Touquet and their demeanour will probably prove far more upbeat than their dejected exit from the Eric Choteau field after a chastening 3-1 loss to France in the FIH Series final.

The Ireland team that qualified for the Olympic qualifiers. Pic: Federation Francaise de Hockey

Saturday’s 4-2 win over Korea – their first ever over the Asian side in a ranking event – assured a top-two finish and ticket to the Olympic qualifiers later this yeat.

But coach Alexander Cox lamented a below-par performance 24 hours later as the French, bolstered by a boisterous Sunday evening crowd enjoying the 28 degree heat, showed another level.

It was a first defeat in 12 meeting between the sides but the French are enjoying their strongest team in well over a decade.

They have recently gone full-time as part of their “Ambition 2024” programme and they feature an array of their players won either the Belgian or Euro Hockey League this season, aiding their run to the World Cup quarter-finals.

Ireland, for their part, are more transitional and they could not find the connections in the second half to close the gap once Victor Charlet’s pair of penalty corners put them well clear.

“Of course it will look better in a week’s time because we have qualifed but the last game that you play is always the one you remember,” Cox said as Ireland missed out on a bump in world ranking points that could bring a more favourable Tokyo playoff in October.

“The last game here doesn’t make us happy. We made so many mistakes on the ball; we tried to work off the ball but if you make so many mistakes, then you can’t win a game.

“Yesterday [against Korea] we were able to play a good game. Today we didn’t. We should have raised our level and we didn’t. We started the game not good enough and couldn’t raise our level during it the game. We will have to look at why it happened but I am not a happy camper.”

Goalkeeper and captain David Harte concurred, adding: “Credit to France, they were the better team today – that was clear and obvious from the first whistle.

“Where it went wrong for us, I can’t quite put the finger on it just yet but it just looked like France were hungrier than us. It has been a pretty good week for us but to finish on a low note, very disappointed.”

Early on, Viktor Lockwood was causing plenty of issues down the left flank and his groundwork created the chance for Blaise Rogeau to thrash home a 10th minute lead goal.

Ireland replied well with Sean Murray finding plenty of shooting space, one which goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry head-butted away with nonchalance, another spectacular one hitting the post.

And Murray was the man to tie things up on the quarter-time whistle when Ben Walker – a strong shout for young player of the tournament – weaved some space on the left baseline to set up a tap-in at the right post.

EHF President Marijke Fleuren with joint top goalscorer Shane O’Donoghue. Pic: Federation Francaise de Hockey

During this phase, Michael Robson was driving on with plenty of force but it was the French who looked the more forceful with Charles Masson irrepressible.

They went back in front from their third penalty corner via Charlet with seven minutes to go to the big break.

The towering defender was at it again five minutes into the second half and Ireland never really had an answer as they ran out of steam in the second half.

But for Paul Gleghorne’s typically last-ditch save off the line and Rogeau’s outrageous open goal miss in the dying seconds, it might have been more.

In the wider context, a win could have given Ireland’s chances of a more favourable Olympic qualifier or an outside shot at a home draw.

The last chance to boost that rating will be at August’s European Championships in Antwerp where a semi-final spot would do wonders. It will be tough, though, as Ireland will meet to get out of a group featuring the Netherlands and Germany as well as Scotland.

For now, the squad goes into a two-week break with the primary target achieved before returning for training camps and a pre-Euros tournament in Spain when preparations ramp up again.

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, B Walker, D Walsh, C Harte, L Cole, S Cole
Subs: M Bell, L Madeley, M Nelson, N Glassey, M Robson, P Gleghorne, J Carr

France: A Thieffry, P van Straaten, T Genestet, H Genestet, V Lockwood, C Masson, G Baumgarten, F Goyet, V Charlet
Subs: B Rogeau, N Dumont, J-B Forgues, E Tynevez, T Ponthieu, M Branicki, C Saunier

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