Late goals rescue Ireland from the drop
A draw with the Czech Republic preserves elite status for men but women are relegated
Ireland’s John Jackson. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Ireland 3 Czech Republic 3: Late goals from Stuart Loughrey and skipper John Jackson dragged Ireland out of a huge hole to secure their status in the top tier of European hockey for 2015 in dramatic fashion yesterday in Boom, Belgium.
Needing only a draw against the previously winless Czech Republic, Ireland were all but relegated before coming back from 3-1 down with 12 minutes to go to eventually get the result they needed.
A disastrous first half put them in the situation. Ronan Gormley’s dithering allowed Lukas Plochy to nip in and the back-tracking Bruce McCandless turned in his intended cross.
But, spurred by stirring words from Jackson, Ireland kept pushing forward. Peter Caruth’s cross found the unlikeliest of finishers as Loughrey – coming forward from right back – flipped the ball over the towering goalkeeper Filip Neusser. And Jackson scored the leveller with nine minutes on the clock from a cleverly switched penalty corner.
It nudged Ireland just ahead of Poland in the relegation-pool standings, ending the week-long campaign in sixth place; an outcome that coach Andrew Meredith says will have far-reaching benefits. “It is vital for the squad looking at 2014 and the qualification for Rio,” he said.
It ensures Ireland remain in the world’s top 16, meaning they skip straight to the second phase in the Olympic qualification process while also ensures more regular competition against the world’s top nations to test his emerging young panel.
He also paid testament to the resolve shown by his panel. In the past few months, the side came from 4-0 down to beat France while they also bounced back from a 2-0 deficit on Wednesday against world number four side England to draw.
“That’s what makes us competitive against the top nations. It’s great character and heart. You see the guys come in at 18-years-old who show the same character and fire, making interceptions and running things down as the guys who had the guys with the most caps. That’s a really great platform to work from.”
Ireland’s women, however, dropped out of the top tier for the first time following a 3-1 loss to Scotland on Saturday morning. Anna O’Flanagan had given them the perfect start with a delightful goal in the 21st minute. But three set-piece goals saw the Scots turn the game around and saw Ireland relegated along with Belarus.
Men’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships Pool C results: Spain 4 Poland 1; Ireland 3 (C Harte, S Loughrey, J Jackson) Czech Republic 3 (L Plochy, S Bernatek, O Vudmaska)
Standings: 1. Spain 9pts (+12) 2. Ireland 4pts (-2) 3. Poland 3pts (-2) 4. Czech Republic 1pt (-8)
Standings: 1. Spain 9pts (+4) 2. Scotland 6pts (+2) 3. Ireland 3pts (-2) 4. Belarus 0pts (-4)