Men’s EuroHockey Championship II, third place playoff
Ireland 4 (K O’Dea 2, J McKee, S O’Donoghue) Poland 2 (W Rutkowski, J Kurowski)
Teenager Kevin O’Dea’s sharp double earned Ireland a third place finish from the men’s EuroHockey Championship II in Gniezno, beating hosts Poland 4-2.
Ireland produced a super first half, controlling possession and netting two strong goals via Kevin O’Dea and Johnny McKee. But Poland stormed back into contention in the third quarter amid a penalty corner exchanger, Wojciech Rutkowksi and Jacek Kurowski netting either side of a Shane O’Donoghue effort, making it 3-2 with 15 minutes left.
In a wide open final quarter, it was O’Dea who settled matters when he swatted in with three minutes to go.
Hockey’s old adage to “always win your last game” was achieved to cap an encouraging week in which Mark Tumilty handed out seven new caps and landed the primary goal of a World Cup qualifier ticket.
All the while, the side rolled with the punches with two players ruled out a week before travelling and a further two spending the entire week in quarantine under Polish regulations following a close contact ping arising from the flight over.
In the circumstances, it gave coach Tumilty plenty of encouraging food for thought despite the disappointment of Friday’s semi-final defeat to Scotland.
“I thought some of our hockey was excellent; guys definitely delivered. When I reviewed the Scotland semi-final, we did deliver at times but not for long enough so this was nice and positive,” Tumilty said.
“Things were definitely challenging with Covid at times; it is a great learning for the squad. Twenty bad minutes against Scotland cost us greatly; if we had played in that phase like we did today, it would be a completely different outcome.
“We can’t afford to have that at any level and we need to take that and make sure we change that happening, that we don’t have those spells which cost us.
“On the plus side, Kevin [O’Dea] scoring three goals from midfield in his first tournament; a great achievement and shows his potential. Very pleased with that and how all the youngsters did. Kyle Marshall just received man of the match and he has been superb all week. James Milliken in goal came in at late notice and I’m happy with how he did, too.
“The older guys also deserve credit for how they helped the performances and how they dealt with the chaos with our preparation. Disappointed not to be in the final but pleased to finish on a high.”
For O’Dea, meanwhile, it was a memorable finish to his first international tournament just two months on from his Leaving Certificate.
“We didn’t come into the tournament hoping to win bronze but considering we were in this position, we are pleased to win this one.
“It has been difficult with the Leaving Cert but Eoin [Cunniffe], Mark [Tumilty], Neil [Irwin], Jason [Klinkradt] all prepared me really well. Even when I couldn’t come up to training with studies, I was doing all their running [plans]. It was great coming into the tournament and made the step up not half as bad!”
From the off, Ireland showed intent, attacking with drive and purpose. An early corner chance went abegging, a signal of what was to come.
And they were in front in the ninth minute when Peter McKibbin’s powerful ball into the circle found its way to O’Dea at the back post. It came at the Cork man at an awkward height but he expertly volleyed home for 1-0, this second in two games.
It was 2-0 before the end of the first quarter, the second goal a smart move found Johnny McKee peeling away to the left. He produced a box of tricks to work the shooting chance which he popped home at the second bit of the cherry.
Like the semi-final against Scotland, there were chances to extend the lead but were frustrated as O’Donoghue’s rasping reverse went inches wide while a McKee deflection from another McKibbin pump came back off the crossbar.
Ian Stewart elected to pass when a shot might have been the option from a two-on-one chance as the half closed out with Ireland still on the up.
Poland came more into the contest after the big break and began to run up a healthy penalty corner count. From their second set piece, Rutkowski unleashed a perfect shot into the top right corner to give the Poles a lifeline.
That threat seemed to be quickly quelled when O’Donoghue nailed his fourth goal of the week with a pin-point drag-flick, making it 3-1 in the 38th minute.
But the hosts once again were back in contention when Kurowski found a way through the defences of James Milliken.
The game was settled, though, with three minutes to go. It followed a brilliant move with Sean Murray and McKee laying on the chance for Stewart. His shot was saved at full stretch but only fell to a waiting O’Dea who gleefully batted in his second of the day.
Ireland: J Milliken, T Cross, J McKee, N Glassey, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, P McKibbin, M Robson, B Walker, I Stewart
Subs: D Walsh, K O’Dea, M McNellis, B Nelson, F Gibson, J Duncan
Poland: M Pacanowski, D Kotulski, G Jarzynski, J Kurowski, M Koperski, R Pawlak, J Janicki, W Rutkowski, M Kasprzyk, M Lange
Subs: M Glowacki, T Bembenek, M Gumny, K Sudol, M Nowakowski, B Zaworski