Irish feel the pain against Spanish
Ireland's men fell to their first defeat in the warm-weather training camp in Cape Town yesterday afternoon when Spain beat them 3-2 with a goal just two minutes from the end.
It was the third game in four days for the Green Machine since arriving in the South African city ... and they won't have much time to rest as they take on the hosts this evening (6pm) in what is an intense schedule.
Craig Fulton's lads opened the camp with a 2-0 success over Canada on Thursday but then could only manage a 1-1 draw against the same opposition on Saturday, which underlines how close it will be when the two nations meet in the same pool at the Rio Olympics.
Yesterday's narrow defeat to the Spanish, who are ranked above the Irish, was hard to take but bearing in mind Fulton is having to make full use of his 26-man squad, which includes 12 Ulstermen, because of the volume of games coming up, it gives him a chance to offer pitch-time to those knocking on the door.
The Irish took the lead against Spain yesterday when Shane O'Donoghue snapped up the rebound from a penalty corner after just eight minutes but the second quarter saw them on the back foot and it needed goalkeeper David Fitzgerald to pull off several good saves.
But Spain's ability to counter-attack with speed earned them two goals in the third quarter through Alvaro Iglesias and Ricardo Santana before Kirk Shimmins levelled matters with his first international goal.
However, while pushing for a winner, the Irish were caught out by David Alegre with just two minutes left on the clock.
In Saturday's game against Canada, the Irish were the dominant side but only salvaged a 1-1 draw right at the death when Lisnagarvey's Timmy Cockram put away a penalty corner.
The Irish had their chances in the first half through Gareth Watkins and Lee Cole before Canada scored against the run of play.
Shane O'Donoghue hit the post and Kyle Good put one over the crossbar but Canada managed to absorb the pressure and hold out against the rising number of penalty corners until Cockram finally broke them down with 30 seconds left on the clock.
Meanwhile the domestic programme was virtually wiped out at the weekend due to the snow and frost, but Ulster Premier League leaders Instonians did manage to go ahead.
In fact their 7-1 romp over Portadown was the only senior game to survive the weather and it moved them eight points clear at the top of the table.
That's now 11 straight league wins for Steven Redpath's lads and it was all made possible by the help of the province's top two marksmen - Stephen Kelso and William Robinson - who scored six of the goals between them.
Midfielder Robinson, in fact, bagged four to take his season's tally to 22 while striker Kelso's brace lifts him to 23.
Robinson started the rout in the 10th minute by converting a penalty corner and within a minute Alan Patterson set up James Corry for the second.
Stuart Kirkland pulled one back for Portadown but any hope of a revival by the Edenvilla Park men ended when Inst scored twice more in a minute just before the interval, with Robinson getting both.
The first was another penalty corner conversion and his hat-trick was completed when Matthew Martin set him up from open play.
Neil Gilmore hit the post for Portadown in the second half but Martin set up Kelso for Inst's fifth goal and then they turned on the pressure for Robinson to get his fourth, this time from a retaken penalty stroke, and Kelso his second.
Finally, Ulster's two representatives in the all-Ireland indoor championships lost out in the semi-finals, with Civil Service going down 8-4 to Railway Union and Queen's crashing 9-1 to Three Rock Rovers.