Bronze medal finish lifts Ireland up Hockey rankings
European Championship hockey
Ireland men arrived back home to a hero's welcome yesterday after their history-making bronze medal success in the Europeans staged in London.
What a memorable week for Craig Fulton's squad - eight are from Ulster - with a handful of things to celebrate as well as their superb 4-2 success over England in their own backyard.
The Green Machine had never reached the semi-finals before but finally ended up ahead of two of the world's top five teams and three above their ranking.
David Harte was named goalkeeper of the tournament, Paul Gleghorne was named man of the match against England, and they'll get 150 more world ranking points than the last Euros, which should see them jump one place and perhaps two to 12th when all the continental championships are completed.
The Irish were the dark horses in the pool phase, nudging out World No.4 Belgium to reach the last four, and then ran World No. 2 Netherlands close, falling to a single goal but hitting woodwork twice.
And to come from behind twice to beat World No.5 England on Saturday was the icing on the cake and gave them their first medal at a major world ranking tournament.
They now have moved up to first in line for the 2016 Olympics, and their ticket to Rio should be confirmed in October if either Australia win the Oceanic championships or South Africa win the African championships.
England were favourites to beat their near neighbours and sure enough Harry Martin squeezed in the opening goal, and after Ireland equalised, Adam Dixon deflected in Ashley Jackson's penalty corner.
But Fulton's men wouldn't lie down and they converted all of their penalty corners to take a shock 3-2 lead going into the last quarter.
Shane O'Donoghue put away the first, Alan Sothern got the second after Eugene Magee switched the ball left, and then Magee stepped up to fire in the third to set up a thrilling finish.
England took off their keeper in the final three minutes for an extra outfield player but it backfired and the Irish broke quick and Iain Lewers - one of three Ulstermen featuring for the home side - had no choice but to concede a penalty stroke with just three seconds left, and O'Donoghue put it away to seal the 4-2 success.
"We enjoy mixing it with the best, and it is teams like Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and England that we aspire to be like, and we've done that this week," said man of the match Paul Gleghorne who won bronze at the expense of brother Mark who featured for England.
Coach Fulton added: "It was a great result for the performances we put in this past week - we made history, and I know there is still more to come."
The Dutch were crowned champions, with Belgium fifth, Spain sixth and France and Russia relegated.