Friends rally for Pelow

At the headiest of times for Irish hockey, the agony and ecstasy of the national sides chasing their Olympic dreams was put harrowingly into perspective this week.

Chris Pelow, a member of the Corinthian club in Dublin and an Ireland representative at U16, U18 and A levels, now playing with Sydney University, underwent surgery in Australia on Wednesday to amputate one of his lower legs.

The operation was necessary to prevent the further spread of a synovial sarcoma, a very aggressive tumour which had developed in the 24-year-old’s foot and had been diagnosed just a week earlier.

His hometown club have set up the Friends of Chris Pelow Fund to help support Chris and his family — who have flown to Sydney to be with him — with collections set to be made at club games in Leinster and Munster on March 31.

While Pelow’s plight has saddened the Irish hockey community, they will be hopeful of some good news tomorrow as they gear up for another nail-biting Sunday afternoon’s viewing.

Having seen the men’s side defeated by Korea in the final seconds of the Olympic qualification play-off in Dublin last week, fans will be hoping the women can go one better when they take on Belgium in the final of the Athlon FIH Road to London Olympic qualifier in Kontich, Belgium tomorrow (3.30pm, live on RTÉ 1).

The protagonists having both beaten favourites and 1992 Olympic champions Spain in the pool stages to get here. Curiously, the sides first had to meet in a dead rubber pool stage clash last night, playing out a drab 1-1 draw where giving as little away as possible was the name of the game.

For what it’s worth, Chloe Watkins equalised in the first half after Ireland fell behind to a Jill Boon penalty stroke, but Ireland coach Gene Muller knows this barely qualified as a dress rehearsal.

“We were fortunate to tie that match as Belgium had most of the possession,” he admitted. “It was a difficult match given the emotional high of the [3-2] win against Spain last night.”

The real test of Ireland’s ability to play with the intensity required at this level came against the Spanish, with Muller and captain Alex Speers terming it the biggest win of their Irish careers.

“It was the biggest game in the team’s history — but it’ll get upgraded on Sunday,” Muller said.

Speers added: “We’ve got to where we want to be but the job is only half done.”

Muller is naturally hoping there’ll be no repeat of what befell the men and his fellow South African, men’s coach Paul Revington.

“I just felt enormous compassion for them. As a coach, I’ve lost close games at the end, [but] I’ve never seen anything in hockey so heartbreaking.”

To keep Irish hockey’s Olympic dream alive Muller’s side will need to have heeded the lessons from a disastrous 3-0 loss to the Belgians at last year’s Europeans, and shut down the dangerous quartet of Charlotte de Vos, Lieselotte van Lindt, Sofie Gierts and Stephanie de Groof.

Meanwhile, Alexandra College yesterday won the Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirls’ Championship for the first time in their history at Ballyclare HS. The Dubliners had a perfect four wins from four, beating Galway’s Coláiste Iognáid 4-3 in yesterday’s final game.

It was a tournament to forget for Munster representatives Bandon Grammar as they were whitewashed, going down 4-0 to Alex and 3-1 to Kilkenny College yesterday.

*To donate to The Friends of Chris Pelow Fund, visit http://www.chc.ie

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