Last-gasp McKee winner crowns dramatic week for Green Machine

Men’s EuroHockey Championship II
Poland 1 (K Sudol) Ireland 2 (B Walker, J McKee)

Johnny McKee scrambled in a dramatic winner late on Sunday night to earn Ireland a huge win over EuroHockey Championship II hosts Poland in Gniezno, touching in Shane O’Donoghue’s cross with just 18 seconds to go.

It crowned a dramatic week for Mark Tumilty’s Green Machine in which the squad lost both Jonny Lynch and Lee Cole from the originally named panel prior to departure and then were forced to quarantine after a close contact ping following their flight into Poland.

It meant Neal Glassey and Fergus Gibson – bringing the list of debutants up to seven – came into the fold.

As such, there was massive relief when McKee got that last ditch winner with coach Tumilty admitting he hurt his leg in the celebrations.

And he had nothing but praise for his revamped side for whom James Milliken, Ben Nelson, Mark McNellis, Kyle Marshall, Kevin O’Dea and Ian Stewart all debuted.

“When the majority of the team got out of quarantine, it’s one of the things we said. The maturity the guys have shown this week has been incredible,” Tumilty said.

“It goes back to last Saturday when we lost Johnny Lynch. There have been distractions; some of them hadn’t been on the pitch yet before today. It wasn’t perfect but the senior players and [assistant coach] Jason Klinkradt looked after them really well. Guys have handled it really well.

A young group, they showed a lot of character to hang in there in the end. We defended well and James Milliken was excellent in goals. Shane O’Donoghue produced that great bit of skill on the left-hand side and Jonny McKee got the winner.”

Poland came on strong in the opening minutes with Milliken forced into an early save from Mikolaj Gumny while Sean Murray almost turned into his own net but reacted brilliantly to dive full-length and flip the ball off the line.

From there, Ireland grew into it, forcing Maciej Pacanowski into action before taking the lead in the 15th minute. It came from the second phase of the first corner, an upright revese-stick cross falling to Ben Walker to guide home.

Jeremy Duncan, O’Donoghue and Walker all forced good saves from the goalkeeper as Ireland improved through the second quarter.

But there were rocked when a lengthy crash ball from Michal Kasprzyk was redirected by Krystian Sudol into the bottom corner.

It set up a grandstand finish with Ireland twice going within inches of the lead with Stewart inches away from a dream debut while Poland’s Wojciech Rutkowski had a goal chalked off with two minutes left.

Ireland reacted brilliantly to that reprieve and grabbed their winner as O’Donghue got in down the left and flicked across goal, McKee putting out a stick which knocked it home.

It puts the Green Machine in great shape and a win on Tuesday against Italy (4.45pm, Irish time) – who beat Croatia 4-1 with three goals in the last ten minutes – could put them on the verge of this week’s first target, a ticket to the World Cup qualifiers.

“It’s nice to have that kind of reward out there and if we can get it early, it could give us some freedom for the rest of the tournament,” Tumilty added.

“But Italy will be very tough and, actually, Croatia looked very good today as well. We have to be better than today but we will grow.

Ireland: J Milliken, T Cross, J McKee, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, M McNellis, P McKibbin, J Duncan, M Robson, B Nelson
Subs: D Walsh, N Glassey, K O’Dea, B Walker, F Gibson, I Stewart

Poland: M Pacanowski, D Kotulski, G Jarzynski, J Kurowski, R Pawlak, J Janicki, P Pawlak, J Chumenczuk, W Rutkowski, M Kasprzyk, M Lange
M Glowacki, T Bembenek, M Gumny, M Koperski, K Sudol, M Nowakowski