The Green Machine recorded their first ever win over Korea in a ranking competition to guarantee their place in next October’s Olympic qualifiers with a 4-2 win in the FIH Series semi-final in Le Touquet.
For large tracts, Ireland were the dominant force in baking heat on the French coast as three goals in the minutes either side of half-time had them 3-1 up with
But the world number 17 side have a habit of causing Ireland pain. And Seungil Lee’s goal and a yellow card for Paul Gleghorne meant an intense defensive effort was needed to withstand an onslaught before Neal Glassey finally made the game safe at the death.
Early on, there was little to separate the sides with chances at a premium. Byungjin Kim broke the deadlock from Korea’s first chance, a tamely awarded penalty corner that was cleverly switched left.
Ireland equalised fortuitously before half-time when Matthew Bell’s hit and hope bounced via Sean Murray to a Matthew Nelson whose light touch looped up and in for 1-1 with 11 seconds to go to the break.
After the interval, Ireland started to carve Korea open and had two in as many minutes. First, Daragh Walsh and Ben Walker combined to play in Eugene Magee to gleefully sweep home at the left post.
Then Magee showed all his magic to lift the ball into Shane O’Donoghue’s path and his early shot had just enough on it to catch Jaehyeon Kim off guard.
Ireland looked more likely to kick on from there but were stung out of the blue by Lee’s corner goal. With Gleghorne in the bin, Korea went to 11 outfielders, swapping out their goalkeeper to try and make full use of the overload but the Irish defence was resolute to hold on until Glassey’s late clincher.
“A bit scrappy, a bit dramatic but would we do it any other way,” was goalkeeper and captain David Harte’s summation.
“In a complete picture, we were the better side and ultimately they were just looking to pick off scraps with pc variations and the likes. How we defended in the last 10 minutes when they went to 11 field players, I am incredibly proud of the team and how hard they worked for our ultimate goal of Tokyo 2020.
“The equaliser came at a great time for us, going in at half-time in a really confident mindset and mood. That set us on our way. That’s the style of play we are trying to play, be more dangerous on the counter while our defenders do their job at the back.”
Ireland will now play in the final on Sunday (5pm Irish time) with a victory boosting their chances of a more favourable opponent in the Olympic qualifiers.
Ireland: D Harte, J Jackson, J Bell, E Magee, S O’Donoghue, S Murray, B Walker, D Walsh, C Harte, L Cole, S Cole
Subs: M Bell, L Madeley, M Nelson, N Glassey, M Robson, P Gleghorne, J Carr
Korea: J Kim, N Lee, S Cho, S G Lee, T Hwang, J Lee, M Jung, E Hong, S H Lee, J Jang, K Kim
Subs: J W Cheon, S K Kim, H Kim, J H Kim, J Yang, B Jeon, G Kim