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irish aces stick it out for ninth

Lacrosse may be an unknown sport to many Irish sports fans, but the Irish men's team has just pulled off a memorable performance at the World Championships in Manchester.

Seeded in the second group, the Irish narrowly failed to make the quarter-finals of a competition dominated by countries such as Canada, where the game started, and the USA, where college matches attract thousands of fanatical followers.

Making smart use of American links to this country, the Irish team featured a number of players who grew up with lacrosse sticks in their hands. Among them was Matt Walsh, who over the course of the tournament was to score 24 goals and assist in a further 16. Just behind him was Kris Prior, also with 24 goals, but with fewer assists.

Walsh began playing lacrosse aged nine in Newport, New York, and lined out for the Dublin lacrosse team for two years while working with JP Morgan in the city. He's now studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, so expect a lacrosse team to emerge from that part of the world soon.

Despite the number of US-based players on the 23-man squad, it fell to UCD's Paddy O'Leary to score both the first and last goals of the tournament for his team.

Ireland had begun their campaign against Korea, with O'Leary scoring the first of 15 goals. The Koreans managed just three in reply.

Next up was Slovakia and, after knocking in nine goals in the first quarter alone, the Irish stormed to a 23-4 victory. Switzerland a day later proved tougher, but the Irish still prevailed 16-3 before facing Sweden, who staged something of a comeback after going down by six goals in the first quarter. The Irish were never too pressed, however, and won the match 12-7.

With a record of four wins in four, the Irish then took to the pitch against an experienced side from Scotland knowing that victory would give them a place in the quarter-finals. Last year, the Irish had lost to Scotland in the Celtic Cup, but with a stronger team, they hoped to do better.

They started well, and were ahead 6-5 after the first two quarters.

The Scots then turned on the power and ran out 15-9 winners.

A 17-5 victory over Finland the next day restored Irish spirits.

Finally came their play-off match against Sweden for ninth place.

After beating them earlier in the tournament, the Irish were in confident form. The Swedes failed to convert their chances and the match ended with a 15-8 victory for Ireland to put them ninth of 29 teams. In the final, the USA narrowly beat Canada.

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