Irish fight back Britain against to enhance Rio hopes
Ireland came from two goals down to earn a precious draw against old rivals Great Britain in their opening game in the World League 3 tournament being staged in Belgium and from which tickets to the Rio Olympics are handed out.
Craig Fulton's lads showed the big crowd at the Dragons Ground in Antwerp just what they are capable of as they steadied the ship after a disastrous opening 10 minutes to come within a whisker of beating the World's No 5 team, who regularly feature on the Olympic arena - whereas the Green Machine have yet to clinch that honour.
It was a thrilling game and with so much at stake and involving two near neighbours, it wasn't surprising that umpires sent a handful of players to the sin-bin, issuing three yellow cards as well as greens.
The added intrigue was the three Ulstermen playing for GB having already featured earlier in their careers with Ireland and, of course, the clash between the Gleghorne brothers Paul and Mark, who were facing each other again.
Both had outstanding games and to Mark's credit he didn't over-celebrate GB's second goal, which he created.
Indeed, the other Ulstermen in the GB set-up - Iain Lewers and David Ames - also had fine games and looked dangerous, particularly when they came striding forward and with their precise distribution.
At one stage there were 12 Ulstermen on the pitch, but it all ended square, although the Irish looked the more likely to produce a winner following their fine comeback.
They almost grabbed a win in the last minute when Peter Caruth won a penalty corner and Conor Harte's effort was gloved over the crossbar by keeper George Pinner after Shane O'Donoghue's original strike was blocked.
It means Great Britain have drawn two games out of two and now have two days' rest but for the Irish they'll take stock today and face Malaysia - another team ranked above them - tomorrow (1.00pm).
"We gave away two sloppy goals early on but we showed the great spirit in our camp with a great fightback, and in the end we missed a chance to come away with a win," said Irish keeper David Harte.
They talk about the luck of the Irish but that didn't ring through in the first quarter as Great Britain stormed into the lead after five minutes when an Irish stick deflected the ball home and then it was two after nine minutes.
And just to rub it in, the Irish hit the woodwork twice, first from John Jackson after a penalty corner variation and then from Chris Cargo's cross following a swift counter-attack.
The Great Britain opener came when Barry Middleton latched onto an aerial ball and then got that lucky deflection.
And the second arrived when Mark Gleghorne crossed for Chris Griffiths to squeeze it past goalkeeper Harte at the near post.
The Irish goal six minutes from the interval followed good work from Mitch Darling down the left and Kyle Good deflected home his pinpoint cross.
Great Britain continued with their successful style of play - four in defence and six in midfield, with players bursting forward or retreating when necessary - but Ireland grew in confidence and Jackson created and then scored the equaliser himself in the third quarter.
He charged down the right and wriggled along the byline and although his cross was blocked, he met the rebound and batted the ball home.
Altogether, Ireland won five penalty corners in the second half and a total of seven throughout the game and almost snatched a winner in the final minute when Caruth was fouled, but Conor Harte's shot from second phase was tipped over the bar by Great Britain keeper Pinner.
But was Irish coach Fulton worried when his side went two down so early on?
"I knew the players were up for this game, in fact for the last 14 months," he said. "It was all about keeping our patterns and getting back on track.
"And we did, and could have won it at the end."
Yesterday's results: Pool A: India 3 Poland 0. Pool B: Great Britain 2 Ireland 2; Belgium 6 China 0.
Today's programme: Pool A: Poland v France, Pakistan v Australia.
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