World series hots up as Nelson puts Irish in pole
Matthew Nelson is having the time of his life - the teenage Lisnagarvey striker made sure Ireland are top of the table going into tomorrow's final pool game in the World League 2 series at Stormont with his second goal in two games.
On Saturday he was on the mark as the Irish crushed Ukraine 9-2 and yesterday it took him just two minutes to score against Austria, although the game finally ended 1-1, with Craig Fulton's men getting the bonus point by winning the shoot-out 4-2.
It means a draw would suffice against Italy tomorrow (2.30pm) to ensure Ireland get the supposedly easier crossover quarter-final clash against the bottom team from the other pool.
Nelson, who was playing schools hockey with Wallace High just over a year ago, is certainly relishing his first world ranking tournament, not only featuring against international opposition, but playing in front of a home crowd. "It's great, and so good to get among the goals in both games," said Nelson. "An outright win would have been better against Austria, but we're still in a good position at this early stage."
The Green Machine really should have beaten the Austrians, but they failed to build on Nelson's early goal which came when he collected Chris Cargo's pass and turned his defender to shoot home.
And they were hit 90 seconds from the end when Dominic Uher converted a penalty corner.
But Ireland made sure of the bonus point when Conor Harte, Eugene Magee, Shane O'Donoghue and Johnny McKee all converted in the shoot-out while goalkeeper David Harte saved two of the Austrian efforts.
Saturday's win was more convincing, with many of the young players on the mark including Banbridge's Johnny McKee who struck twice, Nelson, Jeremy Duncan, late stand-in Ben Walker, and Lee Cole.
"I don't think Austria tried to play too much, sitting deep to play off our mistakes," said Irish coach Craig Fulton afterwards.
"We had a lot of possession and maybe we didn't play it smart enough at times, but it's only this group's second game together at this level.
"We do need to improve but I'm not unhappy at the way things are going."
Meanwhile, Cookstown edged closer to the Ulster Premier League title when they crushed Campbellians 8-2, with Stuart Smyth grabbing a hat-trick.
Their main rivals, Kilkeel and Annadale, also both won ... but they have still to play each other in the run-in, which means one or both will drop points.
Kilkeel beat Mourne rivals Newry 4-1 while a Fergus Gibson double helped the Dale to a 4-0 success at Belfast Harlequins.
Cookstown need just two wins from their final three games to secure the title and an automatic place in the play-offs to get back into the EY Irish Hockey League.
World League 2 (Stormont): Saturday: Ireland 9 (McKee 2, Nelson, Bell, Duncan, O'Donoghue, Cole, Harte, Walker) Ukraine 2; Austria 1 Italy 1 (Austria win shoot-out 4-3); Wales 3 Poland 1; France 3 Scotland 1. Yesterday: Ireland 1 (Nelson) Austria 1 (Ireland win shoot-out 4-2); Italy 6 Ukraine 2; France 3 Poland 1, Scotland 2 Wales 2 (Wales won shoot-out 4-2)
Premier League: Cookstown 8 ( Smyth 3, Allen, McWhirter, Ames, Black, Crooks) Campbellians 2 (J Easlea 2); Kilkeel 4 ( Niblock, Agnew, Annett, Russell) Newry 1 ( Fletcher); Harlequins 0 Annadale 4 (Gibson 2, Getty, Capper); Mosley 8 (Todd 2, Dow 2, Robinson, Barr, Hill, Brown) Raphoe 0
Senior One Top Four: Antrim 2 (Kane, McBride) Bangor 1 (Burgess); South Antrim 4 Queen's 3