“A good day, a challenging day and a really educational day, an amazing experience,” John Jackson reflected after a draw and a loss marked Ireland’s return to indoor international action after 33 years.
The skipper fired home to earn Kenny Carroll’s side a 2-2 draw against Wales in Santander in the first of two ties at the EuroHockey Indoor Championships III.
They trailed 2-1 in the first half with goals from Alistair Clift and Rhys Bradhsaw with Callum Robson getting the Irish reply but they kept plugging away in an excellent second half performance to find the leveler at the end.
Game two was a much tougher baptism against an experienced Scotland side, captained by 2008 Olympian Stephen Dick, who pulled 11-3 clear in the second half.
The first half was relatively tight but Ireland could not convert any of the first three corners with UHC Hamburg’s Tommy Alexander picking off a series of good stops. The Scots, meantime, were clinical to build a 3-1 lead with Ross Canning getting the response.
Ireland began to chase the game too soon and Scotland preyed on this, running up the next three goals to move almost out of sight and five final quarter goals put Kenny Carroll’s side to the sword.
Speaking about the Welsh tie, Jackson told The Hook: “We made a slow start in finding our press and our out-letting structures and they scored a stroke.
“We clawed our way back into the game and the difference between the first and second half was pronounced. We started stringing phases together, pressing together, and it was very hotly contested.
“Our penalty corner defence was on it; perhaps our corner attack could have been better but we worked really hard, took the goalie off when we needed to get a result, just reward for our efforts.
“Hopefully it proves to be an important point and helps us when it comes to Sunday and getting into some kind of medal game. Boys were in good spirits after that naturally.”
The two games were punctuated by a dip into the Atlantic, feeling the full effect of the 10-degree water to aid recovery.
Then it was straight into the tie against the Scots who were playing in their first game of the tournament.
Jackson felt it was a competitive first half, saying: “We worked their goalkeeper pretty hard. He was definitely the busier even though we were 3-1 down.
“We went and chased the game and that really bit us in the second half; they countered well, getting two more goals up, and they just picked us off time and again.
“We were naïve and got stretched and were neither pressing up nor were in deep defence and had quality across the court. Their experience told in the end.”
Nonetheless, as a first outing in so long, Jackson said it was an important day and a more than decent starting point on a new journey.
“Lots of lessons to be learned but we can take some positives. Our stats man had us with more circle entries so we are doing some good things but Scotland were that bit better in the circles.
“We will be put under way more pressure by a very good Spanish side so we will see how much we have learned. Slovenia might be the game which determines if we play for a medal.
“We did come here with high expectations, coming here to win and get promoted but this is our first foray into indoor, hopefully the first of many and future success.”
Ireland face Spain at 11.25am (Irish time – live streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org) before meeting Slovenia at 4.40pm. The Spaniards ran up 9-0 wins over both Slovenia and Wales to mark them out as favourites for one of the final spots.
Third and fourth place in the five-team group advance to bronze medal match on Sunday.
Men’s EuroHockey Indoor Championships III (all in Santander)
Friday: Ireland 2 (C Robson, J Jackson) Wales 2 (A Clift, R Bradshaw); Ireland 3 (R Canning 2, J Jackson) Scotland 11 (D Coultas 3, C Falconer 2, C Golden 2, J Golden, G Amour, E Sandison, S Dick)
Saturday: Ireland v Spain, 11.25am; Ireland v Slovenia, 4.40pm
Sunday: classification matches