Deflected shot cruelly ends Ireland’s Olympic dreams
Ireland Russia 3 0
FEW WORDS, explanations, emotions can articulate the depths of disappointment in Belfield yesterday when the efforts of more than four years work not so much came crashing down but vanished into the clear blue skies over UCD.
The manner of the Irish hockey team’s 3-2 defeat to Korea in the dying seconds of the final of the Olympic Qualifying event will live with this side for some time and as with every Olympic campaign cannot be directly addressed for another four years leading up to the 2016 games in Rio.
“It’s pretty hard to take for the entire group,” said South African coach Paul Revington. “They had worked very hard and to have it taken away at the end was a tough call. They’ll have to get on with it. It was a tight game. It was going to be won or lost on a moment like this and unfortunately for us it went against us.”
The excruciating moment was the winning goal seconds from the end of normal time. In a match that looked destined for extra-time, a “Hail Mary” free hit towards the crowded Irish goal with eight seconds remaining took the slightest of deflections off a Korean stick and past goalkeeper David Harte, silencing the crowd of 2,000 people and bringing to an abrupt end all Irish ambitions for London 2012.
To add to the drama the umpire, like most in the ground, did not see the touch from Nam Yong Lee and didn’t award the goal. But after a barrage of Korean complaints the play was referred to the Video Umpire, brought in only for the final and not used in any of the other pool matches.
The replay confirmed what the Korean team believed, which was that Lee had actually glanced the ball inside the Irish circle.
The initial decision was reversed and a goal awarded with the Irish players having barely enough time to even restart the match. It was comfortably the cruellest end to any Irish hockey campaign in modern times and will take some time for this team to assimilate.
The Olympic Games has been the target since London was chosen as the venue and with Revington ambitiously shaping and improving the team for the past number of years, they had been regularly beating teams ranked higher, Korea and Spain last year.
But Korean speed and elusiveness, two qualities that characterised their play, delivered the final sting after Ireland had twice taken the lead through Peter Carruth and Tim Cockram and Korea twice fought back to level through Lee, who scored twice, and Hyunwoo Nam.
“The players and the staff have worked really hard,” added Revington. “They’ve worked longer than three years. It will be tough for them to face tomorrow but as in life sport deals us blows and we have to stand up again and keep going.”
Revington was also uncomplaining after a match that bounced from one end to the other, Korea igniting lightning counter-attacks and Ireland patiently building phases and perhaps more consistently holding the ball going forward.
“I think their speed, their skill and running was a tough thing to control and I don’t think towards the end we controlled it,” added the Ireland coach. The awarding of the goal after the video referral was also graciously accepted.
“The body language of the players told the story. Ah . . . I think everybody knew it was a goal,” he added before admitting it was the most difficult outcome of his coaching career to date.
“I’ve faced a few but, yeah, that would rank up there,” he said.
“I would have been confident the whole way through. I didn’t think for a second as we were standing on the side of the pitch we were going to lose it.”
Ireland miss an historic opportunity, Korea join 11 other nations in the 12-team Olympic tournament beginning in July.
AFTER THE agony of events at Belfield yesterday, Irish hockey’s focus now turns to the efforts of the women’s team to make it to London this summer – and with six points out of six from their opening games in their Olympic qualifying campaign in Belgium, they could hardly have got off to a better start.
True, their victories came against two of the teams, France and Russia, ranked below them, but slip-ups against similar opponents in past tournaments have scuppered the team’s hopes before they even warmed up.
And things looked ominous enough when they went a goal down after 13 minutes to the French in Saturday’s opener, Gwenaelle Dutel finishing off a speedy counter-attack. But from there on Ireland dominated the game, goals from Alex Speers, Audrey O’flynn, Aine Connery, Lisa Jacob and Michelle Harvey giving them a 5-1 win.
Ireland were 2-1 up by half-time, captain Speers levelling on 20 minutes after Emma Smyth picked her out from a free at the edge of the circle, O’flynn’s drag flick on the hooter putting her team ahead.
Three more goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half sealed the win, Connery’s exquisite flick over the French goalkeeper for the third the pick of the bunch.
Connery, also a Kilkenny camogie player of some repute, won her 50th cap in yesterday’s 3-0 defeat of Russia, Michelle Harvey marking her birthday with the opening goal from a short corner.
O’flynn made it 2-0 before the break when she powered home from another set-piece and it was the Cork woman’s corner expertise that put Ireland 3-0 up eight minutes in to the second half.
That, though, was the end of the scoring, despite several more chances, but coach Gene Muller was content at full-time, pleased with the team’s display against “a tricky opponent”.
Next up for Ireland, after today’s rest day, are Mexico who, after losing 7-0 to Spain on Saturday, battled well to trail Belgium by just the three goals at half-time yesterday – and then suffered the mother of all second-half collapses, going on to lose 12-0.
That result puts the hosts top of the table on, not surprisingly, goal difference, with Spain in second.
The top seeds, though, were far from impressive yesterday as they struggled to a 2-1 win over a French side that Ireland had so comprehensively outplayed.
An encouraging start, then, but with games against the Spanish and Belgians still to come, there are sterner tests ahead. IRELAND (v France): E Gray, N Symmons, C Sargent, S Mccarthy, A O’flynn, E Smyth, L Colvin, S Mccay, A Speers (capt), A Connery, L Jacob. Subs: M Harvey, E Clarke, N Daly, M Crowley, N Evans IRELAND (v Russia): E Gray, N Symmons, C Sargent, S Mccarthy, A O’flynn, E Smyth, L Colvin, E Clarke, A Speers (capt), A Connery, L Jacob. Subs: M Harvey, S Mccay, N Daly, M Crowley, C Watkins. Results – Olympic Qualifier (at Beerschot, Belgium) – Saturday: Spain 7 Mexico 0; Ireland 5 (A Speers, A O’flynn, A Connery, L Jacob, M Harvey) France 1 (G Dutel); Belgium 4, Russia 0. Yesterday: Spain 2 France 1; Ireland 3 (A O’flynn 2, M Harvey) Russia 0; Belgium 12, Mexico 0. Fixtures – tomorrow: Ireland v Mexico, noon; Russia v France, 2.30; Spain v Belgium, 5pm. Thursday: Russia v Mexico, 1pm; Ireland v Spain, 3.30; Belgium v France, 6.0. Friday: France v Mexico, 1pm; Spain v Russia, 3.30; Ireland v Belgium, 6pm.
It’s all too much for John Jackson as Ireland’s hopes of making it to the London Olympics are dashed by a late deflected shot in yesterday’s qualifier final against Korea in Belfield.
Audrey O’flynn: after scoring against Russia yesterday