Green Machine survive late scare to avoid the drop
Ireland men survived a late scare against Austria in the EuroHockey championships in Amsterdam yesterday to retain their place in the top flight.
Craig Fulton's lads needed a point to ensure they would finish sixth behind Belgium, Netherlands, England, Germany and Spain, and that's what they achieved in a tense 2-2 draw.
They fell behind early when Michael Korper swept in a byline pass, but after a nervous opening 20 minutes they built up a 2-1 lead before conceding an equaliser three minutes from time.
"We are building huge strength in depth in our squad, and with the absentees due to return and a year until the World Cup finals, it's the perfect place to be," said coach Fulton.
"We were comfortable in the second half against Austria and could have scored more goals but then came under pressure in the final few minutes."
The Irish only lost twice in the five games over eight punishing days - narrowly to England (2-1) and Spain (1-0), both of whom are ranked above them.
It looked bad when Korper scored for Austria, but Matthew Bell set up Alan Sothern for the equaliser and Shane O'Donoghue put away a penalty corner to give them the lead.
Lee Cole, Neal Glassey, Matthew Nelson and Sean Murray all squandered opportunities and they almost paid for it when Austria charged down an Irish penalty corner and countered quickly for Korper to force an equaliser and make it an anxious final few minutes.
There were eight Ulstermen in the Irish ranks, but three others came home with bronze medals after helping England beat Germany 4-2.
Ian Sloan (Cookstown) scored their second goal and Mark Gleghorne (Antrim) dived in to get their third from a cross from David Ames (Cookstown).
Netherlands beat Belgium 4-2 in the gold medal play-off.