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Cookstown duo sink Ireland's hopes of making Euro semi-finals

Ireland 1 England 2

By Graham Hamilton

Ireland's brave bid to win a second EuroHockey championship medal fell just a little short as old rivals England beat them 2-1 in the final pool game in Amsterdam to squeeze into the semi-finals ahead of them.

Ironically it was two Ulstermen who used to play for Ireland who did the damage - Cookstown duo David Ames and Ian Sloan.

Ames and Irish midfielder Shane O'Donoghue clashed with each other but, when Ames grabbed him by the shirt, O'Donoghue forcefully tugged his arm as he walked away, inadvertently striking Ames on the chin.

The umpires didn't go to the video to have a look at the incident again, and so O'Donoghue was handed a ten minute suspension and no action was taken on Ames.

And with the Irish down to ten men for so long, it was only a matter of time until England found their winner, with man of the match Sloan getting to the byline and pulling the ball back for Sam Ward to slip home.

It was so near but so far, and instead the Green Machine finished third in their pool and go into the 5th-8th play-offs tomorrow where they will face Spain (1.45pm) and Sunday when they will face Austria (10am).

With a 7-1 win over Poland in the bag, it would need one win from those two games to ensure they retain their top flight status for another two years.

But coach Craig Fulton will have to lift his players after the disappointment of that loss to England.

They took a 13th minute lead when Lisnagarvey teenager Matthew Nelson deflected in O'Donoghue's penalty corner, and they comfortably held that against the higher-ranked England until two minutes into the second half, thanks mainly to three fine saves by goalkeeper David Harte.

It was David Goodfield who got the equaliser, scoring from close range after his effort spun off the keeper's stick and rolled agonisingly into the corner of the net, a real blow to the Irish defence in which Paul Gleghorne, John Jackson, Matthew Bell, Jonathan Bell and Conor Harte all starred.

The ten minute suspension for O'Donoghue effectively changed the game and, with the extra men, England's pressure finally told when Ward finished off Sloan's byline pass.

One of the game's features was the Gleghorne brothers, Paul and Mark, up against each other yet again but it probably goes down as an honourable draw - Paul ensured Mark didn't score but Mark ended up on the winning side.

"We wanted to win the game, and it was good to take the lead, but we made some mistakes in the third quarter and the two goals put us under pressure," said Irish coach Fulton afterwards.

"We move on now and regroup, and we've been in this situation before so we know what it's about. But it's key to take the lessons learned from the England game."

Germany topped Ireland's pool after a 7-3 win over Poland and will now meet the second placed team from the other pool - Belgium, who surprisingly crashed 2-0 to Spain.

The second semi-final sees Pool A winners Netherlands, who crushed Austria 6-0, take on England.

It's the women's programme today and the Irish begin their 5th-8th play-offs with a crucial game against the Czech Republic (11.30am), a game they must win to keep alive any hope of avoiding relegation.

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