Ireland’s young side produced their performance of the week in a pressure-filled tie against Poland, winning 5-1 to advance to the semi-final and move a step away from a ticket to the World League semi-finals where the World Cup tickets will be decided.
They started superbly, winning a penalty corner in the first 15 seconds while Eugene Magee also had a smash at ball unfortunately blocked by teammate Jonny McKee.
From there, they moved the ball, creating a number of good attacks but the last pass just would not stick. Poland had a corner, too, but it was kept at bay with minimal fuss.
The second quarter, though, was where the game was won. Ireland employed a high-lying sweeper to good effect and it played a key role in the first two goals. Matthew Bell stepped forward to pick up the pieces and shoot across the face of goal in the 19th minute for McKee to guide home.
Moments later, it was 2-0 as Conor Harte this time strode forward and picked out Magee at the right post to turn home. Another feature was an aggressive press with Neal Glassey and Shane O’Donoghue preying on any loose ball.
The latter nicked in to set up the move that won Ireland’s second corner. O’Donoghue flung in the drag-flick for 3-0 at half-time. He added the fourth soon after half-time, this time from Glassey’s good work and the Green Machine were all but home and hosed.
Poland did rally, their tournament hopes on the line, and pushed on in the final ten minutes. Pawel Bratkowksi clipped the crossbar from a corner before Patryk Bulka nudged in a close-range shot from a scrappy melee.
Ireland, though, capped the win with a glorious fifth goal, breaking forward from half-way with a series of intricate one-touch passes, leading to Sean Murray to chip over the goalkeeper Rafal Banaszak. It was going in but McKee made extra sure.
Coach Craig Fulton said afterwards: “In a must-win game, there will always be tension. These are difficult games; it’s a quarter-final and must-win.
“Whether you play beautifully or its pretty, it doesn’t matter. The result is everything.”
Reflecting on the flow of the game, he added: “We did well in the first quarter but couldn’t put a final pass on it. They are a difficult team to play against and Mateusz Poltaszewski is a good player and controlled things for a while.
“But once we got one, two and three that put them under a lot of pressure. We pressed well. The stepping forward from us was really good. All respect to Poland, we maybe left three or four more goals out there. Where we are getting the ball are really good areas. It is building.”
Ireland next play Wales tomorrow afternoon in the competition’s semi-final at 2.30pm at Stormont. The winner advances to the final and is guaranteed a ticket to the next phase of the World League.
France and Scotland will contest the other semi-final.
Ireland: D Harte, J Bell, M Bell, R Gormley, M Nelson, E Magee, N Glassey, S O’Donoghue, J McKee, P Gleghorne, C Harte
Subs: B Walker, C Cargo, S Murray, J Duncan, L Cole, J Wright, J Carr
Poland: R Banaszak, M Raciniewski, M Gumny, D Kotulski, S Sellner, M Hulboj, J Janicki, R Wisniewski, A Krokosz, P Bratkowski, M Poltaszewski
Subs: P Bulka, B Zywiczka, R Gruszczynski, P Pawlak, J Kurowski, K Sudol, M Popiolkowskia
Umpires: V Ilgrande, I Diamond
Meanwhile, France moved a step closer to qualification for World League Round 2 as they blew apart Ukraine in the first quarter at Stormont to advance to the semi-finals fter an 11-2 victory.
Wales won their quarter-final with a 3-0 success over Italy, while Scotland became the third side to reach the semi-finals of World League Round 2 as they produced a flawless shoot-out to beat Austria after a titanic tussle in normal time ended 5-5.