Ireland’s Olympic hopes dashed by Netherlands

IRELAND continue to be European hockey’s great entertainers but ultimately saw their slim Olympic qualification hopes dashed by the Netherlands, who claimed a 7-4 victory in a topsy-turvy EuroHockey Nations Championship tie in Germany yesterday.

Needing an unlikely five-goal margin of victory — or a win of any kind combined with an unlikely French victory over England — Ireland got off to a shocker with Bob de Voogd putting the Dutch in front.

But Ireland equalised with a route one goal of real quality, Ronan Gormley’s overhead taking out the entire Dutch defence and midfield, with Eugene Magee supplying a stunning low finish on the half-volley.

Ireland then remarkably surged in front, Geoff McCabe batting home from just below shoulder height after Ian Sloan’s drag-flick was saved, but it didn’t last long as Taeke Taekema hauled the Dutch level.

The drag-flick master notched another for a 3-2 half-time lead, and two more from his stick after the break — one from an improvised corner suddenly had the Dutch out of reach at 5-2.

Ireland could have been forgiven for turning their thoughts to the weekend’s relegation pool clashes when Teun de Nooijer magic made it six, showing off all his 400-plus caps’ worth of experience in deftly lifting the ball over Irish netminder David Harte.

The latter had performed his usual quotient of heroics to keep the scoreline respectable and he got some payback from his forwards as Magee tore down the left on a 70-yard solo run.

He struck the upright with his reverse but Timmy Cockram had kept pace and just about turned in the rebound.

Harte could do nothing about de Voogd’s second and the Netherlands’ seventh, coming after de Nooijer had toyed with the Irish keeper, but Ireland ended on a high note inside 30 seconds, Mikey Watt turning and rattling one into the bottom corner to end a breathless last quarter.

Ireland now head into the relegation pool tomorrow with the boon of three points carried over from the win over France and a +2 goal difference; they’ll face Russia and Spain.

Attention now turns to today’s meeting of Ireland and Azerbaijan in the women’s relegation pool (3pm Irish time), with Gene Muller’s girls — without a win in this tournament — desperately needing a result to avoid relegation to the B division.

Ireland beat the Azeris twice in Dublin at the Champions Challenge I in June, but the latter have since added another handful of naturalised Koreans to their side and ran Spain close in the pool stages.

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