Young Matthew Nelson inspires Ireland to victory over South Africa
Teenager Matthew Nelson inspired Ireland men to an opening 2-0 win over hosts South Africa yesterday in the World League 3 series, which doubles up as the final world qualifier.
The Lisnagarvey striker broke the deadlock after just 10 minutes when he got on the end of a Jeremy Duncan byline cross and it was a lead the Irish held until Shane O'Donoghue wrapped things up with a penalty corner early in the third quarter.
And with the women holding Japan, who are ranked four places higher on the world ladder, to a 1-1 draw on Saturday, it was an encouraging start all round.
The men, though, know that the job is far from done yet - tomorrow at 5pm they meet Olympic silver medallists Belgium who thrashed Egypt 10-0, half of their goals coming from penalty corners.
However, Nelson's early goal was enough to settle the Green Machine and the defence looked rock solid apart from a 10-minute spell in the second quarter during which the world's No.1 goalkeeper David Harte pulled off several saves from penalty corners.
Alan Sothern won the opening penalty corner for Ireland and O'Donoghue put it away and Nelson almost scored again late on after good work by Eugene Magee.
Meanwhile, Ireland's women had mixed emotions after the draw with Japan.
Assistant coach Arlene Boyles said: "I suppose it shows where this group of players is at present as we were disappointed after the game, having been 10 minutes away from winning it."
"But we are in a great place mentally and physically after getting what could turn out to be an important point and we can't be upset about that."
Chloe Watkins missed Saturday's game with an injury but is making good progress and a decision on her fitness will be taken this morning ahead of Ireland's second pool game with Germany (12noon).
Team captain Katie Mullan was upbeat after Saturday's opening draw.
She added: "When you put it in the context of the world rankings, it was a good result for us but obviously we would have liked to have held on for the win."
"It's a long tournament but we can take a lot of positives from the way we restricted Japan to very few chances so it's onwards and upwards from here on."
On Saturday, Olympic bronze medallists Germany could only muster a 1-0 win over a Polish team ranked 18th in the world.
Ireland face Poland on Wednesday and could find it difficult to beat goalkeeper Marta Kucharska, who made a host of superb saves against the Germans, nine of them in the first-half alone.