Senior men’s international challenge match
Ireland 2 (Mikey Watt 2) England 1 (Ashley Jackson)
Mikey Watt’s pair of second half goals saw Ireland get one over on England on Saturday afternoon, levelling an evenly matched two-game series with the world number five side at Belfield as they came from one down to earn a confidence-boosting victory.
Like the first game, the visitors took the initiative, Ashley Jackson firing home a low penalty corner. But Ireland forced the issue in the second half and were on terms when Watt battered home from close range and he won it with his 50th international goal three minutes from the end when he turned in Ireland’s seventh corner of the tie to win it.
It was Ireland’s first win over the auld enemy in 12 years, a day when Stephen Butler, Mark Raphael and Julian Stevenson were on the mark in Manchester with only a couple of draws to show for their efforts since.
But they were decent value for the result with a concerted second half drive pinning back the English and eventually getting their reward in the dying embers.
A power outage meant both anthems were performed a cappella and the game took a little while to catch a light. Not hard to do but Ireland kept the first 10 minutes much tighter than game one.
Conor Harte’s angled overheads to an overlapping Ronan Gormley were giving a nice outlet and, from one such move, Mitch Darling proceeded to win a corner. The first two attempts were charged down, leading to resets, before a third was pushed wide.
David Harte, coming back into the side for David Fitzgerald as Craig Fulton made five personnel changes, did have a good amount of work to do between the posts while Mark Gleghorne should have tested him further when he robbed Jonathan Bell and had a clean strike on goal. It whizzed well wide.
Gleghorne had won that ball from a smart press employed in the face of the left and right backs but, once Ireland countered this by playing keep ball more centrally, it took some sting out of the game.
England, though, did ultimately prosper from their one corner of the half when Gleghorne was felled and Ashley Jackson dragged in a low flick past Harte’s glove side. A fourth Irish corner went unconverted, leaving it 1-0 at the break.
Ireland, though, started the second half on the up. Yet another corner was cleared away but, from the ensuing long corner, Shane O’Donoghue burst along the endline and dined the ball into the path of the unmarked Watt. His angle was tight but he squeezed his shot past George Pinner’s right foot with plenty of raw power.
And Ireland kept plugging away, Watt and Cockram producing some lovely interchanges while Michael Robson, Shane O’Donoghue and Kirk Shimmins showed great maturity in midfield to keep the attacks flowing.
Brave defending from Ollie Willars and Dan Fox scrambled efforts away before Ireland won their last corner, using a move they had called at the break to unpick the English running patterns. Conor Harte rolled it behind his back to Cockram who arrowed into Watt’s path for the winner.
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, R Gormley, M Watt, K Shimmins, M Darling, T Cockram, M Robson, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S O’Donoghue
Subs: J Bell, M Elliott, P Caruth, S Cole, B McCandless, D Carlisle, D Fitzgerald
England: G Pinner, O Willars, H Weir, A Jackson, H Martin, A Brogdon, M Gleghorne, B Middleton, I Lewers, N Catlin, D Fox
Subs: A Bull, S Mantell, P Roper, A Dixon, D Condon, T Carson, P Smith
Umpires: Shane O’Donnell, Warren McCully