Hockey: Ireland keep top-flight status by the skin of their teeth

A late Austrian equaliser gave Ireland a scare but they held out to relegate their opponents

Alan Sothern netted for Ireland as they overcame Austria. Photo: Inpho

Ireland 2 (A Sothern, S O’Donoghue) Austria 2 (M Korper 2)

Ireland survived a heart-stopping late scare to retain their status in the top tier of European hockey as they got the draw they needed to relegate Austria in their Men’s Rabo EuroHockey Championships clash.

It should have been easier on the nerves as they led 2-1 with three minutes to go but they came out the right side of a dramatic endgame to close out a formative year.

The first half was innocuous to say the least from an Irish perspective with Austria taking an early lead via Michael Korper from Dominic Uher’s cross.


With the stadium music turned off for the Sunday repose, the atmosphere – whether manufactured or real– was tepid, matching the play.

Ireland did, however, got back on terms from their only attack of note of the first half. Matthew Bell’s driving run ended with Alan Sothern who was razor-sharp to control and tap in with minimal fuss.

Fortunes turned in the second half, something coach Craig Fulton said was down to Austria’s tactical outlook rather than any stern words on his behalf.

“They were man-to-man for most of the tournament and went to a zone defence which helped us and it really helped us. It made it easier to play it through and we could have scored one or two more.”

As such, the Green Machine had plenty of control in the third quarter, particularly when they went ahead from Shane O’Donoghue’s third corner flick of the competition into the top right corner.

Late drama, though, is a seemingly ingrained element in the Irish DNA and they contrived to concede an equaliser in the last three minutes from their own attack.

A penalty corner of their own was charged down by Xaver Hasun, starting a counter-attack which ended with Korper’s shot going in off both Harte twins at the near post.

Then, with 20 seconds to go, Uher had a chance to win the tie but it slipped through his grasp from Hasun’s ball.

It left the tie at 2-2, Ireland taking sixth and Austria seventh with survival assured for the 2019 edition.

“You are always going to scrap it out at the bottom,” Fulton added. “It’s not a nice place to be but it builds character. Hopefully, in 2019, we can put in the right building blocks and kick on from there and make that semi again.”

While the fraught outcome was not the ideal end to the campaign, Fulton can reflect on a regenerative 2017. Less than half of the Olympic panel was available to him with teenagers Daragh Walsh, Ben Walker and Matthew Nelson indicative of the progress while still managing to assure World Cup qualification.

“A lot of depth used which is the most important thing we could have done. With a year to go to the World Cup, it’s the perfect place to be. Looking at the options, the players are getting confident at this level and so we just need to put a smart programme in place for 2018.”

IRELAND: D Harte, M Bell, M Nelson, A Sothern, K Shimmins, S O'Donoghue, S Murray, M Robson, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey.

Subs: J Jackson, J Bell, N Glassey, B Walker, D Walsh, L Cole, M Ingram.

AUSTRIA: M Szymczyk, D Uher, A Bele, B Schmidt, M Korper, D Frohlich, B Stanzl, F Steyrer, M Minar, L Thornblom, X Hasun.

Subs: F Zeidler, S Eitenberger, P Schmidt, O Binder, F Unterkricher, P Stanzl, M Mantler.

Umpires: B Bale (Eng), J van 't Hek (Ned).

Stephen Findlater

Stephen Findlater

Stephen Findlater is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about hockey