Having secured their Olympic qualifier spot on Saturday with a 4-2 over Korea, the Ireland men were runners-up on Sunday to host nation France, who defeated Alexander Cox’s team 3-1 in the FIH Series final in Le Touquet.
The result damages Ireland’s chances of landing a home draw in the two-legged qualifier in late October or early November, with world rankings key to their hopes. In hot and humid conditions, it was Ben Walker and Sean Murray with one of the opening opportunities for Ireland in the first quarter.
With a save by Thieffry, France were the first to make their mark on the scoreboard with a goal from Blaise Rogeau. It wasn’t long before Murray had another attempt, this time hitting the post. However, Walker had him set up again moments later to give Ireland the equaliser.
France took the lead in the second quarter with Victor Charlet putting the ball in the goal after a scramble from a penalty corner. Walker and Michael Robson both made their presence clearly felt in this quarter while Ireland looked to continue with good energy and pace ahead of half time.
Charlet put a second goal away for France in the third quarter, also from a penalty corner, to give the hosts a two-goal lead. Although the quarter ended Ireland 1-3 France, the final seconds were marked by a great chance for France with a save from David Harte rebounding, Paul Gleghorne stretching across the line on his knees to keep the ball out of the goal and Lee Cole ensuring it was pushed out of harm’s way before the whistle blew.
Ireland seemed to gain momentum again in the last quarter. A penalty corner in the final two minutes presented an opportunity, however Shane O’Donoghue, receiving it from Walker, sent it slightly wide of the posts and France took the victory by two goals.
In the individual tournament awards, O’Donoghue was presented with the award for top goal-scorer of the tournament, shared with France’s Charlet.
Head Coach Cox said, “I’m not happy. We simply played a bad game from the start and couldn’t turn it around. We made way too many mistakes on the ball and our decisions were not quick enough.”
“We trailed the game from the start and couldn’t change it. This was one of those games where it simply wasn’t good enough. Overall I’m disappointed with this performance.”
In Saturday’s game with Korea, the opening quarter of the match saw few chances for either team, with little separating the sides in the heat.
Byungjin Jeon put Korea on the scoreboard in the 25th minute from a penalty corner, giving them the lead. However, a touch from Murray provided just enough of an opportunity for Matthew Nelson to tap the ball into the goal ahead of half-time.
Ireland seemed to come with a renewed energy putting another two goals away in quick succession, making it three goals from three minutes of game time. A clear increase in Ireland’s control of the game saw Daragh Walsh supply a lovely pass to Walker who then managed to feed the ball perfectly to Eugene Magee to send it home and put Ireland in the lead.
Magee was on hand again shortly afterwards to provide O’Donoghue with the opportunity to extend his international goal scoring record to make it 3-1 in Ireland’s favour. However, a penalty corner goal by Seungil Lee saw Korea close the gap slightly before the end of the third quarter.
The final quarter held a few missed opportunities for Ireland, with shots from both John Jackson and O’Donoghue going wide of the goal. Tensions rose in the final five minutes of play when earlier Korean goal scorer Byungjin Jeon ran down the left of the pitch towards the Irish circle.
Gleghorne’s defence resulted in him receiving a yellow card and Korea being awarded a penalty corner. Failing to convert, Korea removed goalkeeper Jaehyeon Kim shortly afterwards making it 11 outfield players against nine. Ireland played strong defensively in the closing minutes of the game managing to move the ball back up the pitch in the final 30 seconds. Neal Glassey had a short almost unchallenged run to put the ball into an empty Korean goal to seal the all important win and a spot in the Olympic qualifiers.
Cox said: “I’m massively proud of the work ethic of the team, especially the way we managed to grind out a win today.”
“I also saw some very good hockey in stages, particularly in the third quarter, with three goals in three minutes of play giving us a good lead.”