ED JOYCE hit a superb unbeaten century at Clontarf only to see victory snatched away from Ireland in the cruellest manner as Pakistan secured the RSA Series with a last-gasp two-wicket win.
Joyce made 116 not out – his highest one-day international score for Ireland and his first limited overs hundred since his spell with England – and a home total of 229-9 looked more than adequate as Pakistan slumped to 133-7 in reply.
However, no sooner were Irish demands for Test match status being renewed across social media, than the visitors' eighth-wicket pair of Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz ruined the campaign with a stunning show of clean hitting.
A partnership of 93 from only 62 balls swung the game decisively and by the time man of the match Akmal holed out for 81, only four runs were required for a victory that was achieved with eight balls to spare.
"That should have been a winning total," said a bitterly disappointed Joyce. "We did really well to battle through the early stages and then push on – I'm delighted to have scored a hundred but obviously not with the result.
"We didn't take a couple of half-chances when we had them four down, and then at the end perhaps we could have bowled fewer slower balls – it wasn't that sort of pitch – but you have to say Akmal and Riaz hit really well and played some special shots. We didn't lose our heads but the game can get away from you very quickly in those situations.
"We'll look back at these two games and say we should have won at least one, if not both, just as last year we should have beaten Bangladesh in two of the T20s but ended up losing all three.
"Being competitive is one thing but we ought to be winning some of these games in our home conditions."
After Thursday's thrilling tie, Ireland had talked up beating the world's fifth-ranked ODI side but were soon brought down to earth when Paul Stirling followed up his century with a first-over duck.
When skipper William Porterfield followed soon after, Ireland were in deep trouble at 4-2, but Joyce rebuilt the innings, first adding a patient 65 with Niall O'Brien, who was caught behind for 29, and then a more strident 94 with his brother Kevin.
The younger O'Brien was just starting to hit his straps when he was caught on the mid-wicket boundary for 38, an innings that contained five fours and underlined his thumping form.
No later Ireland batsman managed double figures on a tricky surface, but Joyce was its master and ensured there was a total to defend, as he hit a six and 12 fours and remained unbeaten after facing 132 balls.
New ball bowlers Trent Johnston and Tim Murtagh then set about the Pakistan top order with a probing opening burst of swing and seam that delivered two wickets apiece and a scoreline of 17-4.
Alex Cusack and George Dockrell maintained the pressure as Ireland kept a tight rein in the field and chipped away, but with the match seemingly won it was lost in a swish of willow. From needing an unlikely 89 to win from 10 overs with just three wickets in hand, Akmal and Riaz produced a blizzard of boundaries that at one point brought 36 runs in the space of 10 balls – Riaz cleared the ropes four times in his 47 not out, and Akmal twice.
So close but, oh, so far. There was heartbreak on the faces of the Irish contingent in a sell-out crowd at what might have been – and, perhaps, what should have been.