Ireland win world series as South Africa beckons for final qualifier
Ireland men have won back-to-back World League 2 tournaments ... and, more importantly, booked their place for the last phase of world cup qualification.
The Green Machine won yesterday's gold medal play-off at Stormont by beating France 4-2 in a shoot-out after a 1-1 draw, and now they can start preparing for the World League 3 series in the summer, probably in South Africa.
That's where the tickets for the 2018 World Cup finals will be handed out and, with some of the experienced Rio Olympians due to rejoin the squad, coach Craig Fulton could have a headache after the eight tournament debutants performed so well.
"These young players are the future of Irish hockey," Fulton said of the new faces. "We want to blood them and there's no better place than a series like this. They now have that experience.
"We played five games with 16 guys - we lost John Jermyn 24 hours before the tournament started and then Chris Cargo in through a broken thumb, and that's not normal for a squad, but they did so well.
"The final was a tough one. But we knew we would create something and the last quarter turned in our favour when they got two green cards and a yellow which opened the gate for us."
The French silenced the big crowd when they took the lead a minute before the half-time break with Victor Charlet's penalty corner whistling to the net.
They had edged the first half but gradually the Irish built up a head of steam and after Neal Glassey shot wide, the French discipline began to let them down late on and when they had two in the sin-bin they conceded a penalty corner which Shane O'Donoghue put away in style.
The shoot-out saw Conor Harte, Eugene Magee and Lee Cole score and even though O'Donoghue missed his, Irish goalkeeper David Harte saved two efforts to leave everything hinging on the young shoulders of Johnny McKee ... and he responded well by converting his to start the celebrations.
"There was a lot of pressure on when I stepped up," admitted McKee afterwards. "But I kept my head, scored and now can look back on a very satisfying series.
Saturday's semi-final 3-1 success over Wales showed the fighting spirit of the Irish -they had to come from a goal down to secure their place in the final.
Wales had taken the lead through a Gareth Furlong penalty corner but in the second quarter Shane O'Donoghue levelled matters from a similar award before Dublin schoolboy Ben Walker put the Irish ahead.
O'Donoghue's shot was blocked but Walker followed up and his effort looped over the last defender and into the net.
It was then Neal Glassey who stepped up to the mark for the Irish when he deflected home Johnny McKee's cross and thereafter it was just a matter of running the clock down.
Scotland finished third by beating Wales 4-0 - Ulster's Ben Cosgrove was one of their marksmen - but now they must wait to see if that is enough for them reach the next phase too.
World League 2 (Stormont Playball):
Yesterday: 7th-8th play-off: Italy 4 Ukraine 2; 5th-6th play-off Austria 2 Poland 1; Bronze play-off: Scotland 4 Wales 0; Gold medal play-off: Ireland 1 France 1 (Ireland won shoot-out 4-2)