Ireland hold strong to overcome South Africa on home turf
Meanwhile, the women’s team opened up their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Japan
Shane O’Donoghue of Ireland celebrates his goal with team mates during day 1 of the FIH Hockey World League semi finals Pool B match against South Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for FIH
Ireland 2 (M Nelson, S O’Donoghue) South Africa 0
Ireland’s greater composure in either circle saw them overcome a potentially sticky encounter against South Africa, with a 2-0 success in their opening Hockey World League semi-final tie in Johannesburg.
At times, the Green Machine’s defence was put under the pump and a high penalty corner count against Craig Fulton’s side is a concern.
But a calmly-taken finish from Matthew Nelson 10 minutes in meant Ireland led early and put the game to bed when Shane O’Donoghue crashed home his 68th international goal with 13 minutes to go.
The first strike owed much to Stephen Cole’s turnover in midfield as well as Rhett Halkett’s howler as the experienced defender contrived to miscontrol Cole’s cross. It fell perfectly for Nelson two yards out to tap in.
The second and third quarters were run by the hosts but a youthful forward line made numerous technical errors to spurn good moves. When they did gel and won corners, David Harte stood tall, keeping out three strikes before half-time while Jeremy Duncan charged down another after the interval.
John Jackson was required to produce some cool defending in a packed circle, too, to alleviate the danger.
When they countered, though, Ireland had much more thrust to their attacks with Sean Murray enjoying a fine night alongside O’Donoghue in midfield.
Having defended five penalty corners, Ireland scored from their first with O’Donoghue powering home. South Africa’s belief capitulated and Craig Fulton’s side closed out the win – their 12th in 13 games – with something to spare.
Next Tuesday’s date with Olympic silver medalists Belgium, however, looks a much sterner test after they thrashed Egypt 10-0 in the other group game.
On Saturday morning, meanwhile, the Irish women started their World League campaign with a 1-1 draw against Japan – ranked four places above them in the world.
Roisin Upton gave Ireland a 44th minute lead with an excellent corner strike but the Japanese bounced back with an equaliser with 10 minutes to go from Shihori Oikawa.
It was a fair outcome from a tie in which the possession, territory, unforced errors and turnover stats were almost identical on each front.
Next on their agenda is a date with Germany at 1pm on Monday afternoon. The Green Army beat the Germans when they met last month in Berlin and a repeat performance could well ensure a quarter-final place.
IRELAND: D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, C Cargo, A Sothern, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, J McKee, P Gleghorne, S Loughrey.
Subs: M Bell, M Nelson, N Glassey, C Harte, J Duncan, S Cole, J Carr.
SOUTH AFRICA: R Pieterse, J Robinson, A Smith, T Drummond, J Hykes, O Mvimbi, M Guise-Brown, R Halkett, D Cassiem, J Eustice, I Malgraff.
Subs: R Rozenburg, D Sibbald, R Julius, T Kok, D Bell, N Ntuli, R Curtis.
Umpires: R van Eert, D Dowdall.