Ireland’s Olympic hockey dream dashed in nightmare finish
Shootout exit follows hugely controversial penalty given to Canada at end of match
Ireland players react after the loss to Canada in a penalty shootout in the Olympic qualifier at Rutledge Field in West Vancouver. Photograph: Darryl Dyck/Sportsfile
Canada 3 Ireland 1 (6-6 on agg; Canada won 5-4 on penalties)
The Irish men’s hockey team gave up a two-goal overnight lead to miss out on qualification for the Olympic Games next summer in Tokyo. Ireland were beaten 3-1 by Canada in Rutledge Field, West Vancouver before losing in a sudden-death penalty shootout.
Ireland, who first qualified for the Olympics three years ago in Rio, went into the second match of the double header with that two-goal advantage having beaten the home side 5-3 on Saturday. Defeat in the second match ensured the aggregate score over the two legs left the sides level on 6-6 overall.
The Irish women’s team will face Canada on Saturday and Sunday of this week in a similar two-leg series at the Leinster Rugby grounds, Energia Park, in Dublin’s Donnybrook.
Ireland got off to the perfect start and took the lead after just six minutes. Playing a back court game and working off counter attacks, it was Johnny McKee who made the early breakthrough. Sweeping down the left, McKee penetrated the circle and his slap to the goalkeeper’s left foot found the net.
Canada were pressing and earned four short corners in the first quarter, twice goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald pulling off fine saves to keep Ireland three goals ahead on the aggregate score. The quarter closed with Ireland one up on the day and braced for an all-or-nothing Canadian offensive.
Michael Robinson went to the bin early after resumption but Ireland weathered it without conceding. Canada by then were doing most of the attacking and held possession, with Ireland looking at times like they were prepared to try and hold their lead rather than go out and win the match.
A crash ball from Canada earned them their fifth penalty corner after 21 minutes. This time Gordon Johnston found his target low and hard to Fitzgerald’s right for the home side to draw level 1-1.
While Ireland remained Ireland two goals ahead on the aggregate scores the penalty corner count mounted, the Canadians reaching seven to Ireland’s two by half-time. But it was Canada who scored next a long ball from Johnston picking out Oliver Scholfield unmarked just in front of the goal. His deflection gave Canada a 2-1 lead.
Ireland picked up their game significantly and penetrated the Canadian circle more often but an idiotic piece of bad discipline from Matthew Nelson, who hit away the ball on a Canadian free, drew a yellow card.
That spelled a fraught final 15 minutes for Ireland. More cards came out from the German referee with Ireland’s Shane O’Donoghue and Canada’s James Wallace both going to the bin leaving Ireland with nine players and Canada with 10.
Needing a score Canada took off their goalkeeper in the dying minutes and when Ireland believed they had earned their place next year, a referral for a penalty corner handed them a hugely controversial penalty decision. Scott Tupper converted with the last play of the match for a 3-1 scoreline and 6-6 on aggregate before the shootout went the home side’s way.