Ireland's men's hockey team are excited by the prospect of making history rather than being weighed down by its burden, according to coach Paul Revington as they face into one of the biggest games of their careers today.
The self-styled 'Green Machine' have upset the odds to oust Malaysia and take their place in the final of the Electric Ireland FIH Road to London at UCD today (4pm), with world number six Korea standing in their way.
There's a spot at the summer's Olympics in London for the winner but the losers leave with nothing, following a six-team pool stage which saw both finalists come through unbeaten, the Irish doing so after John Jermyn's late leveller gave them the 1-1 draw they required against Malaysia yesterday.
President Michael D Higgins will be among the onlookers and RTE are screening today's game live, with more attention than usual set to be focused on a sold-out Belfield as a sporting nation seeks a St Patrick's weekend pick-me-up following Ireland's Six Nations rugby disappointment yesterday.
But although there's a growing sense of hope and expectation, Revington is backing his side to use it in a positive way: "I don't think we feel the weight of history on our shoulders. I think the excitement to change history is really what is driving us forward."
In a competition where margins are always tight, the South African native was pleased with his side's composure and maturity in sticking to their gameplan when chasing the game against the Malaysians from a goal down and subsequently closing out the result.
“What happened in the last 15 minutes is an example of the leadership in the group,” he said. “From the last 18 months, that leadership group has made all the decisions that have pushed this team to where they are. The pressure they were under was not viewed as pressure; it was decision-making, organisation and clear heads.”
There's nonetheless plenty for Ireland to improve upon, especially with their attacking penalty corners where they have converted just two out of 13 across their last two games against Chile and Malaysia.
“It was a combination of the keeper making a couple of really good saves, the first wave runner took a really good line," said Revington.
"We’ll look at that but, at the end of the day, John Jermyn has flicked at a stage when everyone could have been a little jittery. He stood tall and will be doing the same (against Korea).”
Jermyn hailed the goal as "probably the most important of my career" and refuted any notion that Ireland might not have enough left in the tank given the toughness of their Saturday game compared to Korea's 5-1 win over Russia, while the Asian side have also had five hours' extra rest.
“Honestly, I think the lads are quite fresh," said the Cork Church of Ireland man. "We played them on Tuesday and our performance wasn’t the greatest. Anytime you draw 1-1 having not played well, that gives you confidence for the final.”
Discipline is the other key tenet for the side going into the Korean clash. The hosts spent 20 minutes of the 70 down to 10 men during Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Korea in the pool stages but they only picked up one green card against Malaysia for Ian Sloan while Paul Gleghorne, Andy McConnell and Ronan Gormely were suitably calm at the back.
Ireland will nonetheless need all their ducks in a row if they are to make history by becoming the first hockey side from this island to feature at an Olympics since 1908, and the first team in any sport to do so since 1948.