Caruth hero as famous victory sets up trip to Rio
IRELAND 4 MALAYSIA 1
A dream start paved the way for a wonderful win over Malaysia in Antwerp and the reward for Ireland's heroes is, almost certainly, a ticket to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
MEN'S WORLD HOCKEY LEAGUE
Yesterday's victory not only clinched fifth place in the tournament; it also secured revenge against a side which beat the Boys in Green 4-2 in the early stages of the competition.
This time, when it really mattered with Olympic qualification at stake, the Irish were in control from five minutes into the most important match of their lives as Peter Caruth seized the initiative.
First, the livewire Ulsterman delivered a millimetre-perfect cross from the right for Kyle Good to slide home the opener, and three minutes later Caruth put himself on the scoresheet with a sweetly rising shot to the top left corner of Jamaluddin Roslan's goal.
The Malaysians had a handful of chances to reply during the second quarter but goalkeeper Davy Harte was repeatedly quick off his line when it mattered and he also made a superb double save from Muhammad Shamsul.
Ireland lifted the siege nine minutes after the break when Alan Sothern knocked a pass from Mitch Darling out of the air and past Roslan from close range.
Malaysia finally broke their duck with five minutes left on the clock when Harte was finally beaten as Faiz Helmi Jaiz jinked the ball cleverly over the sprawling goalkeeper at a penalty corner to make it 3-1.
However, the Irish were out of sight shortly afterwards when a John Jackson pass triggered a counter-attack which was finished to the back board by a diving Mitch Darling.
Yesterday's triumph means that only the most bizarre combination of events at forthcoming continental championships can deny Craig Fulton's team their place in Rio de Janeiro.
This will be Ireland's first appearance in the Olympic hockey arena since 1908, when no qualification preliminaries were required.
The current generation showed in Antwerp that they have some brilliant individuals and, under the direction of South African Fulton (above), they have also reached a new level of team discipline.
The game banished painful memories of the last-minute defeat four years ago by Korea in Belfield which dashed hopes of Ireland making it to the London Games.
"It was hard to get over the disappointment of 2012 but these lads have done it," commented then manager Peter Jackson who was on the sidelines again yesterday. "All of a sudden it has come to fruition. These boys have absolutely no fear of anyone and we have the strength in depth."
Jackson felt that Ireland gave world number one team Australia their hardest match of the World League, while Sothern's five goals in seven games put him among the leading scorers.
Jackson looked forward to people in Ireland taking more notice of their hockey players in the glare of publicity that will attend the run up to Rio.
Their next assignment will be in London - on the pitch they missed the chance to play on in 2012 - when they compete in the European Championships at the end of next month.
IRELAND - D Harte, R Gormley, J Bell, J Jackson, S O'Donoghue, C Cargo, M Darling, S Dowds, A Sothern, M Watt. Subs: K Shimmins, P Caruth, E Magee, K Good, D Carlisle (all used); C Harte, D Fitzgerald (not used).