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'Farcical call undermines my faith in hockey': Ireland captain Jonny Bell hits out after £1.25m penalty blunder

 

Ireland players were distraught after their contentious Olympic qualifying defeat on Sunday.
Ireland players were distraught after their contentious Olympic qualifying defeat on Sunday.

By John Flack

Ireland captain Jonny Bell insists hockey's world governing body must take action to prevent a repeat of what he believes was a horrendous umpiring blunder that cruelly denied his team the dream of a place in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

On Sunday night in Vancouver, Canada defeated Ireland in an ice hockey-style penalty decider after the game had finished 6-6 on aggregate.

But the Irish are adamant the game should never have got to the stage of a shoot-out.

Describing the controversial episode that gifted Canada the equaliser over the two legs as "outrageous" and a "farce", Lisnagarvey defender Bell suggested that the video umpire, Argentinian Diego Barbas, should "hang his head in shame" after awarding a last-second penalty stroke.

It was converted to tie the scores on aggregate at 6-6, after the hosts had overturned a 5-3 deficit in the first leg to win the second 3-1.

Some of the Ireland players were already celebrating after the on-pitch umpire Ben Goentgen was heard to say "time" and signalled a dead ball, having seen nothing untoward after a Canadian seemed to have run the ball over the goal line in what should have been the last play of the game.

However, the Canadian players, probably more in hope than expectation, exercised their right to use their video referral, and the third official, incredibly, awarded a penalty stroke, alleging that Lee Cole had been guilty of a deliberate foul.

Bell said: "It was a terrible, terrible decision in the last second of the game. A decision like that at this level is just not acceptable.

"Of course there are things we could have done better in the game, but to be so badly let down by the officials is really hard to take.

"It's supposed to be a level playing field. It was outrageous and undermines my faith in the sport.

"The FIH must act to ensure this kind of farce never plagues our sport again.

"I am just gutted that an umpiring decision can rob us of our dream and the injustice of the decision is the most gut-wrenching thing.

"But I am incredibly proud of the effort the guys have put in and I am grateful to (head coach) Mark Tumilty and (assistant coach) Jason Lee for re-galvanising the team and making us believe again."

Tumilty was equally scathing about the controversial call which might well have cost him his future in the post, having stepped in on an interim basis after the shock resignation of Alexander Cox following a disastrous European Championship campaign back in August.

The former Banbridge boss said: "It was a shocking decision that will have a major impact on the sport of hockey in Ireland and cost us a place in the Olympic Games, and it just seems like a bad dream.

"It has been a pleasure to work with this group of players and staff and I am just really disappointed that I could not deliver another Olympic Games for Irish hockey.

"As to what the future holds for me as Ireland coach, that is a conversation that will be held in a few weeks and, for now, I am still just trying to get my head around what happened in Vancouver."

Setting Tumilty's future aside, there are other ramifications after Ireland's heartbreaking failure to qualify for a second consecutive Olympics - all due to the controversial decision of an official.

Hockey Ireland will be counting the cost to the tune of £1.25m pledged by Sport NI to both the men's and women's teams, specifically for the build-up to and participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

With a similar amount ring-fenced from government sources in the Republic, the men's team will miss out on a cash windfall of more than £1m plus add-ons from potential sponsorship deals should they have qualified.

The country's most-capped male player Eugene Magee (33), with 295 appearances, will almost certainly retire from international hockey, and several others, among them his fellow Ulsterman John Jackson (33), are likely to follow suit.

Ireland now face 18 months without tournament hockey, with a lengthy barren period before the start of the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup.

Ireland women's squad for Olympic qualifiers v Canada (Energia Park, Dublin, Saturday, November 2 and Sunday, November 3): Ayeisha McFerran; Roisin Upton, Nikki Evans, Katie Mullan (capt.), Shirley McCay, Elena Tice, Gillian Pinder, Beth Barr, Serena Barr, Chloe Watkins, Lizzie Colvin, Nicci Daly, Hannah Matthews, Sarah Hawkshaw, Anna O'Flanagan, Zoe Wilson, Deirdre Duke, Elizabeth Murphy.

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