Euro Hockey League
KO8: Three Rock Rovers 2 (B Walker, R Canning) Rot-Weiss Koln 4 (M Grambusch, J Fleckhaus, T Grambusch, C Ruhr)
Three Rock Rovers gave Rot-Weiss Koln a huge fright in the Euro Hockey League but ultimately bowed out of the elite competition at the KO8 stage 4-2 to the German giants.
Rovers had made a small piece of history on Saturday morning with a 5-0 thumping of Scotland’s Grange, becoming the first Irish club to win a knock-out game in the reformatted competition.
On Sunday, however, they were expected to be on the receiving end of a similar scoreline against a side featuring seven current German internationals and had reached the EHL final twice in the last three seasons.
And it looked to be going that way at half-time when they eases into a 2-0 lead but a rousing second half performance reeled it back to 3-2 with chances for an equaliser before Christopher Ruhr’s stroke settled the game with 70 seconds to go.
Nevertheless, coach Elun Hack said it was a weekend to be proud of for the new look side after their summer of numerous changes in personnel.
“Really, really proud of the way the boys played,” he said afterwards. “There was a lot of doubt and scepticism about the season, but lads are now buzzing, and means that we can keep competing!
“A lot of people have written us off as serious contenders this season due to the transition. So this weekend, more for our own confidence, set the record straight, that we are ready to compete with our young side, and that with hard work and commitment to the team goal, we can still get results!
“We have set a platform and standard for ourselves, and showed what we are capable of! If we can continue to deliver performance of that quality, we can continue to compete amongst the top teams, locally and European. So this weekend has been crucial for building the team.”
Rot Weiss did start in ominous fashion, dominating the first quarter and they went ahead when they cut through, their accurate interchanges at top speed allowing Mats Grambusch to shoot. Shane O’Brien saved but the ball popped up and the German captain caught the rebound and volleyed in.
Jody Hosking’s rasping strike drew a brilliant save from Victor Aly from a rare counter, an aggressive steal 30 yards out.
The Germans, though, were dictating the game and when they stole the ball on the 23-metre line from a loose James Kyriakides pass, Jan Fleckhaus was in. His shanked shot fortun fortuitously bounced down and then reared up and over Shane O’Brien’s sprawling efforts to save.
Plain sailing at 2-0? Half-time brought a sea change. The Dubliners got inside the Rot Weiss heads in the second half, losing their cool and their structure in dramatic fashion while Harry Morris gave Tom Grambusch a torrid time.
Ben Walker got Rovers on the board from a smart penalty corner move – their fifth set piece goal from eight attempts – with a touch to Hosking’s slap.
Tom Grambusch’s heavily deflected drag-flick did give the German side a 3-1 lead but Ross Canning levelled matters with 21 minutes to go.
It came from the penalty spot after the midfielder was flattened by Sven Alex to earn the stroke. Aly got a stick to Canning’s flick but it had enough on it to sneak over the line.
Aly, though, did get the vital block on the slide to deny Mark English an equaliser from an excellent Kyriakides thrust, the Welsh international playing a key role in midfield.
A penalty corner chance also squirmed across the face of goal as Rot-Weiss rode their luck before clinching the win with 70 seconds to go, earning a stroke when Rovers opted to swap out their goalkeeper in favour of an extra outfielder.
Christopher Ruhr scored it for 4-2, breathing out a huge sigh of relief.
Nonetheless, the result will give Three Rock a ninth place finish in the EHL rankings for this season, something which should give Ireland a big chance of earning a potential second ticket to the competition next season.
“We played as a team, and that was the most encouraging thing from a coaching perspective,” Hack continued. “Getting the new players – some returning – integrated into the culture of the team and club has been a challenge, but what they showed this weekend means we have made huge progress in this area.
“In the second half we changed certain things tactically, and we got a lot of joy out of it, so we absolutely knew we could create chances, and we just needed to be patient.
“RWK were certainly unsettled by our second half performance. When you are the underdogs, you need to be clinical with the few good chances you get, we did that all weekend but, for the one that really mattered, their keeper did really well.”
Three Rock Rovers: S O’Brien, D Kane, A Haughton, J Kyriakides, M Darling, B Walker, S Grace, H Morris, J Hosking, M English, H MacMahon
Subs: R Canning, B Johnson, J Walker, J McAlister, B McCrea, A Empey, B Whelan
Rot-Weiss Koln: V Aly, M Grambusch, K Aichinger, F Scholten, F Pelzner, J Gomoll, T Grambsuch, C Ruhr, T Prinz, J Grosse, T Oruz
Subs: L Trompertz, F Adrians, L Hochemer, M Siegburg, J Fleckhaus, S Alex, M Zimmerman