Ireland's men’s international team can look forward to playing at a higher level after winning the World Champions Challenge II tournament in Lille.
Paul Revington’s lads earned promotion after they came out tops in the eight-nation series, and now they will be playing in the world’s second tier — just like the Irish women — when the tournament comes round again in two years’ time.
It was an amazing success by the squad who grew stronger as the series progressed and they finished it with a flourish by crushing Russia 9-2 in the semi-finals on Saturday and then hosts France 4-2 in yesterday’s final.
They were also the top scorers with 28 goals from six games and had the goalkeeper of the tournament in David Harte. But Ulster duo Peter Caruth and David Ames were pipped to the player of the tournament by the USA’s Patrick Harris.
The success was all the more remarkable in that Revington rested seven established internationals for a variety of reasons but, with the Celtic Cup and now the Champions Challenge II trophies both won over the summer, it justified his decision.
When Ireland destroyed Russia in the semi-finals, some thought the team should have saved some of those goals for the final. But that wasn't necessary as they rose to the occasion again with a well deserved success.
It was the penalty corner routine which paved the way against the Russians with Conor Harte (3), Eugene Magee and Peter Blakeney all on target.
Peter Caruth scored from open play and also set up goals for Geoff McCabe and Gareth Watkins, while McCabe and Michael Watt were also on the mark from open play to guarantee a final showdown against France.
In the final, the Irish were always ahead but the hosts refused to lie down and were still throwing everything at Revington’s lads when the final hooter sounded.
It was skipper Ronan Gormley who gave Ireland the lead in the 18th minute after Ulsterman Chris Cargo won the penalty stroke and then fellow Ulsterman Eugene Magee converted a penalty corner on the half hour.
France pulled one back on the stroke of half-time through Catonnet but Andy McConnell made it 3-1 from Peter Caruth’s pass.
France again responded through Genestet but Caruth set up Gareth Watkins for Ireland’s fourth goal in the 55th minute and they closed the game off.
Next up for Ireland is a five-nations tournament in France against world champions Australia, Korea, Argentina and the hosts, all ranked higher than Ireland.
5/8th play-offs: China 3 Austria 2; Czech Republic 2 USA 1.
Semi-finals: France 5 Scotland 3; Ireland 9 Russia 2
7th/8th place: Austria 2 USA 5
5th/6th place: China 3 Czech Republic 4
3rd/4th place: Russia 3 Scotland 1
Final: Ireland 4 France 2