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Irish a step closer to Tokyo but there's no final glory

 

Breaveheart: Paul Gleghorne (left) puts his body on the line at a French penalty corner
Breaveheart: Paul Gleghorne (left) puts his body on the line at a French penalty corner

By Graham Hamilton

It turned out to be unlucky 13 for the Irish men as their run of consecutive wins over France ended in yesterday's FIH Series final at Le Touquet where they lost 3-1.

Like the Irish women in their equivalent tournament at Banbridge earlier in the month, the men achieved their objective in booking a place in the Tokyo Olympics final eliminators in the Autumn... but then failed to finish with a flourish by losing out in the decider.

Head coach Alexander Cox admits it was a bittersweet tournament in that his lads banked that Olympic eliminator which was the priority.

But to miss out on vital world ranking points by going down in the final means they could end up having to travel to a higher ranked team for the two-legged eliminator.

"We started badly and couldn't turn it around," he said.

"We made way too many mistakes on the ball and our decisions were not quick enough.

"This was one of those games where it simply wasn't good enough.

"Overall I'm disappointed with this performance.

"However, we did achieve that Olympic eliminator slot and must now look forward to the Europeans."

Yes, it wasn't the best performance, but let's not be too critical of a team that Cox is rebuilding, with six of the Rio Olympians not in the squad, either having stepped out of the international arena, being unavailable or simply not selected.

If anything, the final was decided on penalty corners - the French converted two of their five awards but the Irish only managed to win one penalty corner... and that didn't come until just 90 seconds from the end.

Oddly, they didn't win a penalty corner against Korea in the semi-final, and that's something Cox will have to address in the future - one award in two key games isn't at all helpful at this level.

It was Blaise Rogeau who put the French ahead after only 10 minutes when he turned quickly at the top of the circle to fire home.

But the Irish hit back and Sean Murray twice came close, his first effort thumping off the woodwork and the 'keeper turning his second round the post.

But Murray wasn't to be denied and the former Lisnagarvey star levelled matters in the 15th minute when he flicked home from close range after good work by Ben Walker inside the circle.

The hosts got back in front eight minutes from half-time when Victor Charlet put away their third penalty corner.

But the French did have to do some defending of their own, with Walker and Robson keeping goalkeeper Arthur Thieffrey on his toes.

Charlet then converted his team's fifth set-piece to open a 3-1 lead and with a series of minor decisions going the way of the hosts, the Irish were clearly getting rattled.

During this period there were a few anxious moments at the back.

It needed Paul Gleghorne to clear a ball off the line while on his knees and then goalkeeper David Harte twice had to deny close range efforts as the French began to expose gaps.

The Irish launched some late pressure and Shane O'Donoghue - who ended up the tournament's joint top goalscorer with Victor Charlet - had a shot saved and a penalty corner pushed wide.

But the French, who also excelled in the World Cup, comfortably held out.

On Saturday it was three goals in a two-minute spell that put the Green Machine on their way to the final with a 4-2 win which helped them wreak revenge on Korea for snatching the final place at the 2012 Olympics by scoring with just eight seconds left against the Irish.

The Koreans had led 1-0 but Matthew Nelson levelled 12 seconds from the half-time break and then Eugene Magee and Shane O'Donoghue made it 3-1 with goals inside the opening 90 seconds of the third quarter, a real purple patch of three minutes.

Korea pulled one back from another penalty corner but the Irish defence held firm and Neal Glassey ensured success when he scored in the final minute after the Asians had withdrawn the goalkeeper in favour of an additional outfield player.

The Irish now turn their attention to the European championships in Antwerp from August 16-25 where they face difficult opposition in the World No.3 Netherlands and World No.6 Germany, as well as the Scottish team they beat 4-2 last Saturday.

But they won't get word on who their Olympic eliminator opponents will be, with that decision to be made in early September after all the continental championships have been completed.

Saturday: Semi-finals: Ireland 4 (M Nelson, E Magee, S O'Donoghue, N Glassey) Korea 2 (B Jeon, S Lee); France 3 (E Tynevez, B Rogeau, H Genestet) Scotland 0

Yesterday: Final: Ireland 1 (S Murray) France 3 (V Charlet 2, B Rogeau); 3rd/4th play-off: Korea 5 (J Jang 2, B Jeon, N Lee, S Kim) Scotland 0.

Final standings: 1. France; 2. Ireland; 3. Korea; 4: Scotland; 5: Egypt; 6: Chile; 7: Ukraine; 8 Singapore

Ireland1

France 3

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