Shoot-out king David Harte came to Ireland’s rescue to all but assure a first World Cup ticket since 1990 as they battled their way to victory over France at the World League in Johannesburg.
He saved brilliantly twice at the death to hand Ireland a 4-3 win after normal time ended 1-1. Harte was modest in his assessment, taking the regular captain’s line of it being “what our team did to get us there” with “all credit being to the guys”.
But both coach Craig Fulton and Chris Cargo – who scored the winner – said the Kinsale man’s ability gives them the confidence in the shoot-out.
“When you have the best keeper in the world, you are pretty confident going into a shoot-out,” Cargo said while Fulton added he “didn’t really mind” it going the distance to the supposed lottery.
It was something of a steal for Ireland against a side ranked eight places below them in the world as France showed a swagger that belied their ranking.
After an initial Irish flurry, the French had enough chances to go three up in the first ten minutes; thankfully, only one went in.
Harte made a series of blocks, showing few ill-effects of the concussion that saw him miss the early part of the tournament.
More composed in the second quarter, Ireland kept the deficit at the minimum though their offensive penalty corner travails continued, a blank from four efforts.
The third quarter was similarly low-key but Ireland levelled out of the blue when Sean Murray got to the baseline where he was hooked by Jean-Baptiste Forgues. Shane O’Donoghue converted the ensuing penalty stroke for 1-1.
Again, France held much of the ball but Conor Harte and John Jackson put bodies on the line – notably on the final hooter – to send the tie to shoot-out and eventual victory.
A win later today against New Zealand will rubber-stamp a World Cup spot but it is pretty much already in the bank barring a series of unlikely events at all five of the continental championships.
Cargo, though, is keen that it doesn’t even come down to that: “We want to guarantee our qualification here, finish as high as we can and get all those ranking points so I can’t wait to face New Zealand.”
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