Men’s EuroHockey Championship II
Ireland 6 (J McKee 2, S O’Donoghue 2, S Murray, J Duncan) Croatia 0
Ireland eased into the semi-finals of the men’s EuroHockey Championship II in Gniezno and a World Cup qualifier spot into the bargain after they saw off Croatia with plenty to spare.
Needing a draw to advance, Sean Murray’s early goal set them on their way and while it took a while for the insurance goals to arrive, the Green Machine never looked in much danger after that.
Shane O’Donoghue put Ireland two clear at half-time; a second half double from Johnny McKee and more goals from O’Donoghue and Jeremy Duncan completed the rout.
For coach Mark Tumilty, it was very much a case of job done, responding well from Tuesday’s disappointing draw with Italy.
“Delighted; that was our main goal coming into the tournament to give ourselves a chance at that World Cup qualifier,” Tumilty said.
“I am pleased with the performance, bouncing back well after yesterday [against Italy]. That was a tough one to take but thought the guys worked hard today and it was a good game all round.
Captain Murray concurred, adding: “Very chuffed. It was a great bounce back from the lads, especially after Italy which wasn’t our finest performance. The main job was to get that World Cup qualifier spot and we have that and can now look forward to the weekend.
“We hadn’t started fast in the other games and knew we needed to be on the money from the beginning.
“They had a couple of tight games where they were run off their feet and, with back-to-back games, we wanted to get ahead early and then try and pull away. We maintained that throughout and the result took care of itself.”
The opening goal came from a lovely interchange on the left baseline with Jonny McKee hopping the ball out of a tackle and nicking the ball into the middle where Murray cracked home.
After that, it was a matter of time before the lead was extended as Croatia – in their first tournament at this level and the lowest ranked side at 47th – were forced to absorb a huge amount of pressure.
Goalkeeper Hrvoje Fijucek brilliantly denied Ben Walker on a couple of occasions while a trio of corners were also kept out, the third of which saw O’Donoghue slam a shot off the base of the post.
O’Donoghue, though, was not to be held at bay for too long as he doubled the lead as half-time closed in, a trademark corner goal bringing him his 113th international strike.
Two to the good at half-time, the shackles came off in the second half. A flurry of action saw Ireland force a string of blocks in the first 43 seconds which culminated in Jeremy Duncan tipping in Neal Glassey’s cross for 3-0.
McKee added the next at the end of a stunning counter-attack, created by Michael Robson’s 40-metre drive through the middle. The Banbridge man also guided in a Mark McNellis cross early in the fourth quarter for the fifth goal and O’Donoghue got his second with a ripper of a reverse-stick strike.
It means a semi-final on Friday and there are also important ranking points on the table if Ireland can grab two more wins. The chance to move above 13th ranked France – who have completed their Euro series this summer – and become the top seed for the World Cup qualifier, however, looks just out of reach.
“I think it will be difficult to go above France because of the draw against Italy by my calculations,” Tumilty
“But with the draw for the Euro qualifiers next summer also to think of, [the points] could be important but it is not something that overly concerns me.
“We have to deal with whatever comes along and we have seen in this tournament all the teams are competitive. Each game in those qualifiers will be a big challenge but, for now, the focus is on Friday to do what we can to get to the final and a better chance of hosting the European qualifiers next summer.”
Ireland: J Milliken, T Cross, J McKee, N Glassey, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, P McKibbin, J Duncan, M Robson, B Nelson
Subs: D Walsh, K O’Dea, M McNellis, B Walker, F Gibson, I Stewart
Croatia: H Fijucek, C Zec, M Mucic, Z Vuk, B Bachmann, F Zlimen, J Krleza, L M Bachmann, T Premilovac, G Fujs, A Fujs
Subs: P Markovic, I Bagur, F Zlatar, J Damjanic, F Zlatar, L Wehr
Umpires: G Cunningham (SCO), F Weiland (AUT)