Veteran John Jermyn back on radar but Ireland fall short

The unlikely Olympian almost fuelled the unlikeliest of comebacks as Ireland’s return to the top table of international hockey after a 108-year wait came agonisingly short against India.

Cork man John Jermyn’s 91st international goal 15 minutes from time in Deodoro kick-started a huge late push, a rousing closing quarter in which the Irish pushed for a draw.

Ultimately, the eight-time champions and current world number five side prevailed 3-2 in a penalty corner shoot-out but not before Craig Fulton’s charges gave them a huge rattle.

The head coach later lamented a lack of accuracy from set pieces, Shane O’Donoghue’s attempted equaliser with three minutes left skimming the right post proving a defining moment.

India, for their part, were efficient from their set plays.

They bludgeoned in two corners in the first half from twin defensive towers VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh for a 2-0 lead. In between those efforts, Jermyn had one ruled out for crossing, a borderline decision after what looked a smart slip passed the first runner to add to Irish frustration.

It meant Ireland had no return from their first three penalty corners, but Jermyn did power home his next chance in the 45th minute to reduce the gap.

That he did so completed an incredible 18-months in which, by his own admission, he started off as overweight with most believing the 34-year-old had long since retired.

To say he was off the radar is an understatement; Saturday’s tie with India was his first competitive tournament game since December 2012¢s Champions Challenge I.

Back then, he stepped away from the Irish panel, partially for work, more partially because of his upcoming marriage, seemingly never to return. But the Cork man said that he was wary about making formal announcements.

“In the back of my mind, I never really ruled out a return. People did ask questions about it, I was never too committal either way.”

It meant one of the great Irish careers looked set to never have been appreciated by a wider audience. Jermyn had been through three Olympic cycles, two of them particularly rough, coming within inches of the promised land.

The fact his email address features the number 87, his record goals tally at the time, suggested a sort of finality and the next few seasons suggested a slow wind-down.

But the tingles for top hockey were piqued in C of I’s run to the Irish Senior Cup final in 2015 as his personal pride was stung.

“That was a turning point for me was we had a big win against Lisnagarvey in the quarter-final. After it, there were a few Whatsapp pictures of me looking pretty over-weight being sent around.

“This was a big wake-up call to get back in shape for the remaining Irish senior cup matches. Unfortunately, we lost the final but, by the end of the season, I was as fit as I’ve ever been.”

His fitness has held since then and he began the inaugural EY Hockey League with a bang, scoring three hat-tricks in succession.

An international call-up was not on his agenda nor something he pushed for but coach Craig Fulton was watching. Unlike some predecessors, he kept close tabs on the club game, also recalling the 30-something Gareth Watkins who had spent a similar length of time out of the loop.

Both were offered places in the training panel at the turn of the year.

He was also the only player to play no part of the wider squad that earned qualification in Antwerp at the World League semi-finals in July, nor the European Championships bronze medal winning side last August.

Bar some quips, however, he did not feel any Johnny-come-lately resentment from his fellow squad mates who might be displacing.

“The first sessions back were awkward. Bogger [strength and conditioning coach Stephen Barry] asked for weight, height, and date of birth early on and there were quite a few sniggers when I said 1982. I’m looking at Jamie Carr who had just turned 19.”

But three goals in the warm-up games were enough to suggest Jermyn was well worth his recall and his opening goal at a key time lit the touch-paper on Saturday.

Rupinder replied with a second piledriver, painfully off John Jackson’s knee, restoring the two-goal advantage for India before Kinsale’s Conor Harte volleyed home from yet another corner to make it 3-2.

Ireland showed plenty of verve in pursuit of an equaliser but it was not to come, something that they were left to rue.

Captain David Harte said “we beat ourselves” while coach Fulton said his side lacked “accuracy” in the final third.

“For all the good chances we created, we just weren’t clinical enough and they were and, at the end of the day, that’s what is on the scoreboard now,” Harte said.

“Our conversion rate wasn’t as high as it usually is and we are just going to have to get that right. We are creating those chances against the number five side in the world but it is disappointing not coming away with a victory.”

Fulton agreed: “As a team, we normally pride ourselves on that accuracy and today it didn’t fire for us.

"All of our flickers are good and you can see that the shots were on, we just missed the target. You have got to be a realist; it’s not like you are playing in a club match. There’s a lot at stake but we’ll be back. Looking behind the result, I see some really good things but it came down to set pieces.”

Tough tests abound in the coming days with Olympic champions Germany on the horizon on Tuesday before crucial ties against Canada on Thursday and Argentina on Friday. Two wins from those could lay the path to a quarter-final, something that would be a massive outcome for the only non-professional side in the world’s top 15.

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