Craig Fulton's Ireland side were left with mixed emotions following their opening day 2-2 draw with Great Britain at World League Round 3 in Antwerp, coming from two goals down to earn a share of the spoils.
But, having hit the post twice and controlled the final quarter, there was a feeling of what might have been for Ireland. Close range efforts from Kyle Good and John Jackson got them level early in the second half and they pinned the world number five side back in their own circle for long periods.
It earned a more than useful point but there were plenty of thoughts about what might have been.
Good admitted as much afterwards, saying: “Going from 2-0 down in the first quarter, to get back to draw, we are kind of happy. But we feel that the game was there for the taking. That last quarter, we dominated but just didn’t take the chances but we did show good character.”
In truth, the side did get off to a horror start. Five minutes in, Barry Middleton was credited with the opening goal amid a defensive calamity as a long overhead pass was missed by Conor Harte.
Middleton controlled it deftly before firing in a cross that John Jackson dived to intercept in front of Chris Griffiths. He got there first but duly planted it into his own goal.
Two minutes later, Griffiths got a superb touch to Mark Gleghorne’s powerful push from the right flank to make it 2-0.
Gleghorne was one of three Ulster men in the GB line-up along with Iain Lewers and David Ames, all of whom have previously played for Ireland before taking three years out of international hockey to change their allegiances.
Indeed, Gleghorne was playing against his younger brother Paul – who has not pursued the GB route – in the match, showing the tug of war between Ireland and GB in recent years for players emerging from Ulster.
Two down and just seven minutes gone, Ireland set about refocusing with Shane O’Donoghue a key figure to the fightback in midfield.
Jackson pinged the post from one of three corner chances in the first half from a clever switch move as Ireland upped their level.
Good got one back on 17 minutes when he guided home Mitch Darling’s excellent backhand cross from the left, working space amid a congested circle.
Jackson was sin-binned just before half-time but returned in excellent fashion to equalise. Conor Harte set him free down the right wing where he out-stripped his marker before laying on a cross from Darling.
The Three Rock Rovers man was tackled while attempting to turn the cross home but the ball popped back up to Jackson whose momentum left him in front of goal and open to volley in.
GB replied in kind but had a Griffiths effort disallowed for striking his body. Ireland, though, were to boss proceedings from there on in. Stephen Dowds's drag-flick was brilliantly tipped onto the post by George Pinner who also reacted quickly enough to put off the hugely involved Jackson on the rebound.
He also provided a double-stop in the last seven seconds, palming Harte’s piledriver over the bar in the last play to cling on for the 2-2 result.
Nonetheless, it sets Ireland up for a decent run at games against Malaysia on Thursday and China on Friday where two wins would guarantee Ireland a top-three finish in the five-team group and a quarter-final spot.