Comeback comes just short as Ireland fall in exhilarating opening tie with England

Senior Men’s International Challenge match
Ireland 2 (S O’Donoghue, M Watt) England 3 (S Mantell, A Jackson, B Middleton)

Despite a strong Irish fightback, England opened up their two-game series with a 3-2 victory, just about holding on after they had raced into a three-goal lead in a wholly entertaining tie at Belfield.

Ashley Jackson sent flying after taking on Alan Sothern Pic: Adrian Boehm

Ashley Jackson sent flying after taking on Alan Sothern Pic: Adrian Boehm

It handed the bragging rights to Ulster man Mark Gleghorne, playing in England colours, who lined out in opposition to younger brother Paul for the first time. The elder brother had played 80 times for Ireland before switching allegiance to the English panel in 2011 and was subsequently part of their panel who finished fourth in the World Cup in June.

Indeed, with the Commonwealth Games coming up, England showed much more cohesion early on with two goals in the first ten minutes.

Ashley Jackson showed the gamut of his sumptuous skills, notably evading two tackles before picking out Simon Mantell whose ruthless reverse-shot found the roof of the goal just five minutes in.

Jackson was belatedly credited with his side’s second goal four minutes later when his soft drag-flick bundled in at the right post with injector Iain Lewers – who was initially given the goal – in close proximity.

It took a while for Ireland to settle as the visitors were sharper in the interception and turnover phases and, in Nick Catlin and Alistair Brogdon, had speedy runners to cause lots of problems, David Fitzgerald making a number of good stops.

Jackson prompted most things, his vision for a back-door pass or a deft touch around the circle. Ireland had some tidy moments, too, as time went on but could not make an inroad in the scoreline before the break.

In the early moments of the second half, Ronan Gormley did find the goal, the over-lapping right back finding himself through one-on-one and slotting home only to be pegged back for a foot, a charge he vehemently protested.

Mark Gleghorne takes on Conor Harte and Michael Robson Pic: Adrian Boehm

Mark Gleghorne takes on Conor Harte and Michael Robson Pic: Adrian Boehm

England skipper Barry Middleton duly extended the lead with a sliding finish to a Mantell left wing cross on his backhand and Ireland looked in danger of capitulation.

But Ireland rallied and produced a rousing comeback. Shane O’Donoghue continued his habit of scoring against the English with a bullet corner goal in the 49th minute, adding to his double against the same opposition in last August’s Europeans.

The Dragons-bound player had another low flick tipped away by Smith as Ireland forced the issue, transferring play well across the pitch to stretch the English defence.

Mikey Watt guided in a Conor Harte crash ball to make it 2-3 and Ireland looked the more likely to strike again but ran out of time amid a series of good chances.

Coach Ned Fulton said of the performance: “This was a game of two halves, we finished nice and strong, taking our chances in the second half but we were punished in the first half for a slow start. It was an enjoyable game and we are looking forward to tomorrow’s test.”

The two sides play again on Saturday at 2pm in Belfield.

Ireland: D Fitzgerald, J Jackson, M Watt, B McCandless, M Darling, T Cockram, M Robson, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey, S O’Donoghue
Subs: D Harte, J Bell, R Gormley, A Sothern, E Magee, K Shimmins, K Good

England: P Smith, A Bull, Weir, A Jackson, S Mantell, H Martin, M Gleghorne, B Middleton, I Lewers, N Catlin, D Fox
Subs: G Pinner, O Willars, A Brogdon, P Roper, A Dixon, D Condon T Carson

Umpires: K Cholewa, A Groves

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