Green Machine rediscover mojo to build important half-time advantage

Men’s Olympic Qualifiers – first leg

Canada 3 (G Johnston, K Pereira, J Wallace) Ireland 5 (S Murray 2, S O’Donoghue 2, C Cargo)

Ireland’s men put themselves into a golden position to claim a second successive Olympic spot as they will carry a two-goal lead into the second leg in west Vancouver.

In a testy affair, Sean Murray and Shane O’Donoghue fired a double each while Chris Cargo was a hugely influential figure and opened the scoring. It saw Ireland eventually pull clear having gone behind before half-time despite enjoying the lion’s share of the action.

Shane O’Donoghue celebrates one of his second half goals. Pic: Yan Huckendubler

Indeed, it was a team unrecognisable from the European Championships, one playing with attacking verve and visible self-confidence from the outset. They did so in spite of David Harte’s absence through injury, the goalkeeper replaced in the squad at short notice by the uncapped James Milliken with Dave Fitzgerald donning the starter’s smock.

The other talking point was the video review system with issues apparent from the first minute when the Green Machine won their first corner. Canada reviewed but “no advice was possible” came the reply as video umpire Gareth Greenfield could not get the right angle.

Ireland spurned that chance and another two penalty corners but they were buzzing with Tim Cross on the march down the right. There was a sense of inevitability when Cargo opened the scoring, robbing the ball 25 metres out, playing a one-two with Matthew Nelson and then slotting home in the eighth minute.

Canada, though, replied with the first attack, a Gordon Johnston corner drag-flick that deflected off the first runner and through Fitzgerald’s gloves. Ireland wanted to review but umpire Ben Goentgen said they were too slow to call for it.

Matthew Nelson tries to work an opening. Pic: Yan Huckendubler

And Mark Tumilty’s side lost their review privileges soon after for the corner that Canada went ahead from, a Keegan Pereira shot that squirmed through Fitzgerald’s defences. Again, the video process was unsatisfactory with confusion in the radio contact between pitch and tv van over what question Cargo asked for.

It left Ireland rattled and ratty but they rallied and held on to half-time at 2-1 down. Second half, they were rejuvenated and, with Floris van Son in the sin-bin, Jeremy Duncan wriggled down the left wing to win a fifth corner – Shane O’Donoghue ripped it into the top corner.

They went back in front from a quick break and while a pass to John McKee was over-cooked, he retrieved and laid into the path of Murray to slam home.

Back in the ascendancy, Canada got to 3-3 with 12 minutes to go when Pereira found space to fire at goal and Jonathan Wallace nicked in front of the goalkeeper.

But when van Son went to the sin-bin for a second time, now on a yellow, Ireland made the key incisions. Stu Loughrey delivered the perfect cross for Murray to guide home at the back post.

A minute later, O’Donoghue was driving in his 110th Irish goal with another drag down the glove side past Antoni Kindler. That 5-3 lead stayed intact down the final stretch despite Tim Cross getting a yellow card, allowing Ireland some breathing room for game two.

Skipper for the day Jonathan Bell said of the result: “It’s a good half-time score but that is all it is. The guys came out and played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion and focus in what we did.

“Maybe we conceded a couple of goals that we would have liked to have kept out but Canada are a quality side. We have to step up tomorrow again, improve in a couple of areas.

Daragh Walsh on the attack. Pic: Yan Huckendubler

“Especially in hockey, goals can be scored in seconds. That two-goal lead is a dangerous scoreline but it is a good start but tomorrow will be massive.”

The match will be broadcast live on RTE New Now, the RTE Player, BBC NI Website and on BT Sport.

Canada: A Kindler, F van Son, S Tupper, B Logan, K Pereira, A Froese, G Johnston, B Bissett, J Wallace, J Smythe, S Panesar

Subs: G Ho-Garcia, O Scholfield, B Panesar, F Boothroyd, M Sarmento, J Kirkpatrick, D Carter

Ireland: D Fitzgerald, J Jackson, C Harte, L Cole, D Walsh, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, T Cross, J Duncan, J McKee, P Caruth

Subs: J Bell, S Loughrey, C Cargo, M Nelson, E Magee, M Robson, J Milliken

Umpires: D Barbas (ARG), B Goentgen (GER)

Ireland celebrate Chris Cargo’s opening goal. Pic: Yan Huckendubler

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