Ireland 2-1 France
Goals from Jeremy Duncan and Shane O'Donoghue earned Ireland victory in their opening match of the FIH Men’s Hockey Nations Cup against France in Potchefstroom, South Africa on Monday morning.
The FIH Hockey Nations Cup is a new tournament that acts as a pathway to the FIH Hockey Pro League. A relegation/promotion format will see the first-placed team in the FIH Hockey Nations Cup go up and the bottom-placed team in the FIH Hockey Pro League go down.
Ireland will also face Pakistan and South Africa in their group, with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals.
They took the lead against France in the 22nd minute after player of the match John McKee won the ball and drifted forward, beating several opponents before sliding a perfect pass into the path of the onrushing Duncan who dived and lifted the ball over the goalkeeper.
Ireland didn’t retain the lead for long, though, as France piled on the pressure, launching a number of attacks before scoring from their fourth penalty corner of the match. Ireland were down to three outfield defenders as they broke the line for France’s third corner.
Victor Charlet made use of the extra space as he sent a flick like a tracer bullet between the right post and post player to draw France level.
Benjamin Walker thought he had done enough to put Ireland back in front soon after when he was taken down in front of the goal and was awarded a penalty stroke, but Thieffry Arthur saved O’Donoghue’s effort to keep the scores tied.
O’Donoghue made up for that miss in the third quarter. France had previously squandered another couple of corners before Ireland won a corner of their own and O’Donoghue’s powerful drag went under Arthur’s foot as the goalkeeper went from hero to villain for France.
A tense final quarter was end to end, with both sides throwing punches and France piling forward to try to retrieve a point from the game but it ended with Ireland in front by two goals to one.
Coach Mark Tumilty was effusive in his praise for his team afterwards.
"I’m delighted with the win," he said. "This group has certainly had a few tough days in the past and they’ve shown a real bit of character today to dig out that result. I’m very pleased with how they managed the game and how they executed the game plan which is a huge step forward for us.
"So now our focus turns towards the Pakistan game and seeing can we build towards achieving that semi-final berth. It won’t be an easy game but we just need to produce a performance similar to what we produced today and that’s the challenge going into tomorrow."