Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh in Vancouver on behalf of Hockey Ireland
Ireland will take a two goal lead into the second leg of their Olympic qualifier against Canada tomorrow after beating the hosts 5-3 in Vancouver today.
A goal from Chris Cargo and two each from Shane O’Donoghue and Sean Murray gave Ireland the win in an impressive performance.
Man-of-the-match O’Donoghue attributed the win to the fighting Irish spirit that the Green Machine traveled with.
“It’s a good win. It’s one from two. And that’s all it is”, he said. “Obviously there was a lot of fighting spirit out there and that was one thing we said before we came to these games: that we would play that Irish fighting spirit. And we did.
“We had a couple of sucker-punches during the game. Bounced back. Showed the resilience of this group.
“But listen, the job is only half-way done.”
Ireland drew first blood early in the game after Chris Cargo found space to get through the Canadian defenders and duly finished the chance.
Canada then found their feet and brought the game to Ireland a bit more. They equalised through a penalty corner chance before the end of the first quarter. Irish goalkeeper David Fitzgerald, in for the injured David Harte, got a hand to the shot, but the force behind it finished the job.
Canada’s confidence continued to grow in the second quarter, and they went 2-1 up mid-way through, again through a penalty corner. Ireland entered a referral plea, but the decision on the pitch was upheld and Ireland lost their referral privileges for the rest of the game.
Encouraged by a strong finish to the first half, Ireland came out all guns blazing and equalised two minutes into the third quarter through a penalty corner, all-time leading goalscorer O’Donoghue adding the finishing touch to make it 2-2.
Ireland kept the pressure on and were rewarded eight minutes later when Sean Murray put the visitors a goal up, giving Ireland a 3-2 lead into the final quarter.
The Canadians found another gear then in the fourth, which eventually paid off when they equalised 3-3 with 12 minutes to go.
Canada had a chance to take the lead again minutes later, earning another penalty corner for their efforts, but after taking too long to get set, saw a yellow card and were down to 10 players.
This gave Ireland the chance to really get a foothold on the game, and a quick attack saw Sean Murray put Ireland back in the lead, before O’Donoghue sealed the win.
“We did our homework obviously”, O’Donoghue said after the game. “We negated their strengths for most of the game.
“They got a couple of chances that went astray or cut across the back post, but I think in general we kept them at bay. Kept their key players under control and I think from there we flourished.
Ireland now look to recover and regroup ahead of the second leg, with Canada needing to win it by at least two goals to reach the 2020 Olympics.
“Our dream is still on the line”, O’Donoghue continued. “Nothing is a given here and we’re only 50% of the way there. So we’ll do whatever we have to do individually.”