Shoot-out magic puts Ireland all but ends 28-year wait for World Cup berth

Hockey World League Semi-Final, 5th-8th place playoffs
Ireland 1 (S O’Donoghue) France 1 (H Genestet), Ireland win 4-3 on shoot-out
Barring a series of miracles, Ireland’s men have assured their place at a first World Cup since 1990 as they ground out a shoot-out win over France in Johannesburg.

David Harte made two brilliant saves, showing why he is the two-time world goalkeeper of the year, at the death before Chris Cargo slotted a low shot passed Corentin Saunier to snatch a 4-3 victory after normal time had finished 1-1.

The hour of regulation play was fraught throughout with France having the best of it, going ahead early on via Hugo Genestet. Four penalty corner chances in the first half for Ireland went incomplete, adding to the tension after they let nine of those set pieces slip by in their quarter-final against Spain.

In that quarter-final tie, Ireland were by far the more aggressive. This time, the focus was far more on defensive bravery against a French side playing with a swagger that belied their lower ranks.

Nonetheless, Ireland stuck at the task and, from a rare chance on the counter, Sean Murray was hooked back by Jean-Baptiste Forgues on the right baseline. It led to a penalty stroke that Shane O’Donoghue roofed to make it 1-1 in the third quarter.

After that, a healthy chunk of defending was required with Conor Harte – nursing a shoulder injury – getting through a wealth of work while Paul Gleghorne and John Jackson put their bodies on the line to shut down chances.

Jackson, indeed, dove to block a Blaise Rogeau shot with three seconds to go to ensure the extra chance, one in which Ireland have serious confidence. It was the same method they beat the French on in March in World League Round 2 in Stormont, knowing they had Harte to watch their backs.

Harte was modest in his assessment, taking the regular captain’s line of it being “what our team did to get us there” with “all credit being to the guys”.

But both coach Craig Fulton and Chris Cargo – who scored the winner – said the Kinsale man’s ability between the posts gives them huge belief in the shoot-out.

Ireland celebrate following their shoot-out win. Pic: FIH/Getty

“When you have the best keeper in the world, you are pretty confident going into a shoot-out,” match-winner Cargo said while coach Craig Fulton said he “didn’t really mind” it going the distance.

Indeed, his record is such that he has not lost a shoot-out since 2014 between club and country, including five wins in 2017 already – three with Ireland and a couple with Kampong. Three times France have been his victims in that time and they must be sick of the sight of him.

There was drama with Eugene Magee adjudged to have fouled goalkeeper Corentin Saunier in his one-on-one only for the video review to swap the decision in Ireland’s favour with O’Donoghue netting from the spot from a second time.

Harte swept away Guillaume Deront and Genestet’s chances, setting the stage for Cargo to slip home an incredibly calm effort.

For Fulton, he hailed his goalkeeper who missed part of the tournament with a concussion but came back to have a massive influence.

“It took him out of his rhythm for four or five days and we almost had to rehabilitate that confidence back into him. He’s also our captain and wasn’t around so it did change the dynamic.

“The guys did really well to respond. That was key and we came back with improved performances [in the last two games]. The big one was against Spain and we are disappointed [not to kill them off] about that but will learn from it. We did really well today when it mattered.”

He added that wins of this nature can only help the new-look side after such a large turnover of players in the wake of Rio.

“We’ve had a 10-player change from the Olympics so we are in a building phase and we are excited to see the youngsters in these big games. If you don’t play these big games, how do you grow?

“We are trying to get more guys to play in Europe in stronger leagues and hopefully we can get to a World Cup or Olympic quarter-final in the near future.

“When I started we were 15th, now we are ninth. There’s the progression. Our goal is to get to the top six in the world.”

For now, it gives them a place in the World League’s fifth place playoff against New Zealand on Saturday. Fifth guarantees an India 2018 spot at the first attempt.

The respective goalscorers Hugo Genestet and Shane O’Donoghue. Pic: FIH/Getty

But a minimum finish of sixth will be well within the threshold when the continental championships are tallied in the coming months.

Among the elements that would have to go against them, for example, would be Papua New Guinea – the world’s number 61 – beating both Australia and New Zealand.

In the other continents, either Poland or Austria would have to win in Europe; in Pan-America someone other than Canada and Argentina would need gold. Asia and Africa do have slightly shorter odds with Korea and South Africa in the mix.

Cargo, though, is keen that it doesn’t even come down to the waiting game that led to an all-nighter watching Australia play New Zealand in the Oceania Cup in late 2015.

“We played some really good stuff against Spain in the quarter-final so we knew if we kept going, we would get our rewards. France are a really good team; we play them a lot and probably know them too well so we knew it would go to the wire and just really happy we got on the right side of it.”

“We want to guarantee our qualification here, finish as high as we can and get all those ranking points so I can’t wait to face New Zealand.

They play on Saturday at 5pm in Johannesburg while the Irish women are on at 10.15am in their seventh place playoff. That one is also important in potentially boosting their chances but they will have to wait a few months no matter what.

Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, M Bell, C Cargo, M Nelson, A Sothern, S O’Donoghue, C Harte, J Duncan, S Cole
Subs: E Magee, N Glassey, S Murray, P Gleghorne, S Loughrey, J Carr

France: A Thieffry, P van Straaten, H Genestet, S Martin-Brisac, V Lockwood, C Masson, N Dumont, G Deront, J-B Forgues, V Charlet, E Tynevez
Subs: C Peters-Deutz, J-L Kieffer, B Rogeau, G Baumgarten, F Goyet, E Curty, C Saunier

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