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'It is hot out there but there are no excuses': An agonising Olympic start for Ireland's hockey men

The world number five side were given a real scare but survived to take the points.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland 2

India 3

Updated 8.45pm

–With reporting from Sinéad O’Carroll in Rio de Janeiro

IRELAND CAME UP agonisingly short of opening their Olympic hockey campaign with a point on Saturday afternoon as they were made to pay the penalty by a clinical Indian side.

Craig Fulton’s side conjured a brave performance in sweltering conditions in Rio but their spirited comeback wasn’t enough as they suffered a narrow defeat in their Group B opener.

A disappointed side coming off the pitch at the Olympic Hockey Centre in Deodoro, the players stuck to their oft-repeated mantra of ‘No Excuses’ when discussing the game.

Despite temperatures soaring into the 30s (and a concession from Conor Harte that, ‘It is hot out there. I can assure you that’), they refused to use the momentous setting or unusual heat as contributors to the defeat.

“We didn’t perform to where we know we can,” Harte told TheJournal.ie.

We said before the game, we wanted to play the game and not the occasion . At times, we let the occasion get to us. Ultimately, losing. We were here for a result and we didn’t come away with anything so it’s very disappointing.

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On the blistering conditions — the temperatures jumped at least seven degrees Celsius today compared to the past six days in the city — the 28-year-old sweeper said:

“I’m sure [the heat] did [impact us] but it plays a part for both teams. It’s whoever deals with it the best comes out on top.

You saw us at the end there, we were giving it everything until the final whistle. So I don’t think we let that affect us, maybe the first few, trying to acclimatise. There is no excuse.

First half

On a momentous day for Irish hockey, it did take the Green Machine time to settle and they found themselves two behind by half-time.

After finding themselves on the back foot for much of the opening quarter, Ireland’s resistance was eventually broken by VR Raghunath’s 15th minute penalty corner.

And with less than three minutes left in the second quarter, David Harte was left helpless again as Rupinder Singh fired Indian into a commanding two-goal lead at the Deodoro Olympic Park.

Rio Olympics Hockey Men David Harte watches the ball go into his net. Source: Hussein Malla

At 1-0, John Jermyn had seen his goal, from a penalty corner, chalked off for obstruction in the build-up and it proved crucial as Ireland were made to pay for their indiscipline.

Fulton rallied his troops at the interval and they came out of their shells thereafter, often demonstrating the tenacity which saw them make history by qualifying for the Games.

Jermyn gave the noisy band of Irish supporters something to shout about in the 45th minute with a strong finish, low to the goalkeeper’s right, from another well-worked PC routine.

But the celebrations were short-lived.

Pal scored his second of the game as India, the most successful country in men’s Olympic hockey with eight gold medals, cruised towards victory — but there was a grandstand finish to come.

The Ireland team dejected in a huddle after the game Fulton talks to his players at full-time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With five minutes remaining, Ireland rallied and somehow mustered the resolve to push the world number five side all the way.

From another set-piece, Conor Harte persevered and eventually stabbed it home to give the Boys in Green hope of pulling off a stunning comeback.

With India rattled, Ireland pushed during the last four minutes and in an attempt to find an equaliser, scarified goalkeeper Harte for another outfield player.

But time was against them and India held firm to earn the points and leave Ireland with plenty to think about ahead of their next game, against Netherlands, tomorrow night at 10.30pm Irish time.

The short turnaround time means anything to be taken from the game has to be learned quickly.

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Using his decade of experience on the international and professional stages, Conor Harte, just minutes after the final whistle, was talking about coming together again, ensuring strong body language and changing the mindset.

“Learn from this. Learn from what we need to improve. Less penalty corners against us and be more clinical in their circle,” the  Racing Club de Bruxelles said.

“It’s that simple.”

A strong short corner defence is something the team prides itself on, Harte explained, noting the disappointment that it wasn’t there for them today.

Coach Fulton echoed his sentiments on ‘it coming down to set pieces’ and having to be more clinical when chances come.

“It ebbed and flowed for three quarters and we finished strong in the last quarter after John Jermyn’s goal. We were playing well and had a good few chances but were just not accurate enough.

“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.”

Taking a lead from his players, the South African former player and two-time Olympian and wasn’t going to use nerves or the occasion as excuses.

However, he added: “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.

“I don’t know if it was the toughest game we have ever played but it was tough. India are ranked fifth for a reason with strong corners, strong set-pieces and strong forwards. But we have that as well and having said all that, we got more corners than them and more chances so it is up to us. 

“Tomorrow, [we are] fully focused on the Netherlands and getting a result from that. For now, less is more. I think we are OK.” 

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