Men’s EuroHockey Indoor Championships III
Bronze medal match: Ireland 2 (J Jackson, R Canning) Wales 1 (J Fleck)
Ireland’s men struck twice in the closing two minutes to snatch a bronze medal from the EuroHockey Indoor Championships III in Santander, crowning a satisfying first weekend back in the game.
In their first international tournament since 1987, the side grew into the tournament with their final salvo a just reward as they beat Wales 2-1 in the third place playoff.
They did trail to Jonathan Fleck’s seventh minute opener for a long time as Ireland endured a frustrating second and third quarter with both Mark English and Jackson denied with spectacular saves off the goal line.
When Neal Glassey served time for a yellow card, it look like the game was up for Ireland but he returned from his suspension to in a vital fourth penalty corner.
English laid it into the path of Jackson to guide home for 1-1. Thirty seconds later, Michael Robson found a foot from which Canning took the direct route to the roof of the net.
Wales only had one shot prior to the final minute but duly won a series of three penalty corners in the final minute; goalkeeper Stephen West brilliantly charged down each one to secure the medal.
It marked a positive return to the code after the long break and something to build on. Other than Friday evening’s 11-3 blow-out against Scotland when Ireland showed a naïve touch, chasing the game too early, they embarked on a steep learning curve, culminating in the back-to-back wins.
Skipper John Jackson summed up the mood, saying: “Amazing to come away with a medal at our first attempt. It’s probably something that doesn’t happen very often, medaling at an event with Ireland.
“Across the course of the weekend, our performances got better and better. We found a style that started to suit us, particularly for the court we were playing on.
“The only disappointing thing was the second half against Scotland – otherwise, we played a really good tournament. Today, even with time slipping away, we were dominating the match in terms of threat and getting the ball into the dangerous parts of the pitch.
“We always have faith despite being down that we would get something at some point. Credit to Kenny [Carroll]; he made some really good calls on the corners. Indoor is one of those things, even with a minute to go, goals can come in a split second. You are rarely out of it at 1-0 or 2-0. We always had belief we could get something.”
He also paid tribute to coach Carroll and manager Rob Abbott who played instrumental roles in getting Ireland back to this stage with hopes for more in the future.
“The whole trip has been excellent and is a real credit to Kenny and Abbo for the efforts they put in over the months and years to get us to this point.
“We are delighted it came together today. Had we not won a medal, it would still be a hugely positive experience and hopefully something that will be replicated and bettered in the coming years. It’s certainly the start of something bigger and better!”
Ireland: S O’Keeffe, J Jackson, R Rixon-Fuller, R Canning, N Glassey, M Robson
Subs: C Robson, M English, B Parsons, H Morris, S West
Injured: J Lynch