Olympic slot in sight after key victory over Malaysia
Massive team effort results in second successive win over higher-ranked side
Peter Caruth celebrates scoring Ireland’s second goal during the World Hockey League fifth-place play-off against Malaysia in Antwerp. Photograph: Koen Suyk/Inpho
Ireland players celebrate at the final whistle after the 4-1 victory over Malaysia in the World Hockey League semi-final fifth-place play-off in Antwerp. Photograph: Grant Treeby/Inpho
Ireland 4 Malaysia 1
An impeccable 4-1 win over Malaysia put Ireland in the best possible position to qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time, finishing fifth in the World League round three in Antwerp.
Barring a series of freak results in the continental championships – which run until October in some cases – Craig Fulton’s side should be offered that ticket in the coming months.
For a second successive game, they did it by beating higher ranked opposition. Indeed, Malaysia, like Pakistan on Friday, are a full-time professional outfit, a situation the Irish can only dream of at the moment.
But Fulton said the side were willing to go above and beyond to level the playing field and surprise some of the heavyweights.
“It’s just been a massive, massive effort from all the staff. What goes on behind the scenes, no one really knows,” he said.
“It’s all down to preparation, the conditioning we did. We made a pact 14 months ago when I came in to the job, bringing in a programme to get us more conditioned and professional in outlook than ever before.”
It paid off in spades. Ireland had lost 4-2 to the Malaysians in the group phase of the competition.
There, the Asian side started like a house on fire against a tentative Ireland.
Caruth then rocketed a ball to the top corner for the second just seven minutes into the game.
More than a few wobbles followed, especially in the second quarter. Faizal Saari butchered an open goal chance while David Harte – later awarded goalkeeper of the tournament – had another inspired game.
It kept the margin at two going into half-time, where Ireland regrouped before unleashing the move of the match. John Jackson and Mitch Darling provided the impetus down the left sideline before Alan Sothern guided in his fifth goal of the competition.
Harte and his defensive corner team, led by Kyle Good, kept out wave after wave of Malaysian forays forward.
Defender John Jackson paid tribute particularly to Paul Gleghorne and Johnny Bell – who took two shots off the line – for their roles, playing back-to-back full games after Conor Harte fell injured three games ago.
He said the defensive setup employed laid the base for the two famous results.
Faiz Jali did nick one back with five minutes to go. It left a couple of nerves jangling, but those were settled in the final minute when Shane O’Donoghue selflessly hit into Darling’s path to tip in the fourth goal.
It ensured the fifth place, a position which with conventional logic should see them reach the Olympics.
Jackson said that he is “90 per cent” hopeful that the ticket will be confirmed in due course.
“Hopefully, in the next few weeks we will have a better picture and can start putting in our preparations to make sure we do ourselves justice in Rio.”
- Olympic qualification: The Lowdown
Only three automatic places for the Games come from the World League with the remainder given to the five continental champions.
But should nations qualify via both routes the next Olympic spot will go to the next placed finishers in the league. Such doubling up is, based on world rankings, all but certain in Pan-America and Europe.
Indeed, an extra place could become available from Pan- Am should hosts Brazil miss out on the top six in their region, a minimum criterion laid out by the IHF to take part.
In Oceania, the smart money would see Australia outdo New Zealand and free up another World League place .
Africa is even messier. No African side has won a ticket via the World League but South Africa, the clear favourites there, have been told that their Olympic committee, SASCOC, will not send a side, opening yet another World League place.
Should three of those five issues work out in Ireland’s favour, the Olympic ticket will be theirs.