Shane O’Donoghue equalled the Irish goalscoring record with a glorious 13th-minute volley but was left wishing the effort would have had much greater significance in yesterday’s Men’s Hockey World Cup opener against Australia in Bhubaneswar.
His 93rd strike in green tied things up at 1-1 in the first quarter, levelling him up with Cork man John Jermyn, but the world number one side — going for a third World Cup in succession — eventually turned the screw in the second half.
Indeed, Ireland’s chances were fleeting in the second half once Tim Brand scrambled home the winner in the 34th minute.
Nonetheless, there was plenty for Irish coach Alexander Cox to be content with. It was the closest Ireland have come to a result against the Kookaburras in 10 meetings and his side stuck rigidly to his game management plan to frustrate their usually free-flowing opponent.
“We were in the game until the final whistle,” Cox told the Irish Examiner afterward.
“Until the last phase, we kept doing what we needed to do, slowing the game down, waiting for our opportunity to accelerate.
“The second half was difficult to put more pressure on their defence and on the ball but we did what we needed to do and that was excellent.
“In the first half, I think we were the better team and so on that part, I am happy.”
The Irish started well with Jonny Bell’s dummy down the left creating a huge chance in the early minutes with Sean Murray and Matthew Nelson denied by Andrew Charte in the aftermath.
Australia took the lead from their only chance of the first quarter, though.
Umpire Paco Vazquez initially awarded a penalty stroke when a David Harte save hit Paul Gleghorne but while the video review downgraded it to a penalty corner, Blake Govers – who averages over 1.2 goals a game – whizzed in a high drag-flick.
O’Donoghue replied quickly, Sean Murray creating the chance with a drifting run and slipping a delicious pass under his left shoulder.
The move invited the midfielder to race through where he chipped the ball up to chest height and then popped over Charter’s elbow.
“It was a pity the goal was not more important as we are disappointed not to get something there,” O’Donoghue said of the historic moment.
Nonetheless, Cox paid tribute to the influence of the Glenanne club man: “He is like our quarter-back. He controls the field. From midfield, he can speed up the attack when we need to but also slow it down.
“It was an amazing goal and we need things like that. We will not create a crazy amount of chances [against the likes of Australia] so we needed something special to come off.”
Ultimately, Australia began to squeeze the life out of Ireland’s momentum and they got in front in spectacular style.
Brand robbed the ball 75 metres from goal and tore forward, offloading to Corey Weyer who then picked him out with a pin-point reverse pass. Harte — who was exceptional — saved his first chance but the ball fell invitingly for a rebound finish and the champions made it 2-1.
Further goals were prevented via a series of brave tackles from Nelson – who became the youngest Irish player to reach 50 caps – Paul Gleghorne and Bell.
At the other end, things did not stick but there is more than enough to suggest Ireland will do some damage when they meet China and England in the group, sides rated far lower than the world number one Aussies.
Men’s Hockey World Cup Pool B:
Ireland 1 (S O’Donoghue) Australia 2 (B Govers, T Brand)
D Harte, J Bell, C Cargo, M Nelson, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, M Darling, P Gleghorne, C Harte, S Loughrey Subs: M Bell, A Sothern, K Shimmins, M Robson, D Walsh, L Cole, D Fitzgerald.
A Charter, C Weyer, E Ockenden, J Whetton, B Govers, T Howard, M Swann, D Beale, T Mitton, T Brand, J Hayward Subs: T Craig, J Harvie, M Dawson, A Zalewski, F Ogilvie, D Wotherspoon, T Lovell
P Vazquez (Spa), J van ’t Hek (Ned)