Ireland beat Belgium again for second Pro League win

Sean Murray

It’s taken Ireland a while to get up to speed in hockey’s Pro League but now Mark Tumilty’s squad are showing they can compete with the best sides in the world.

Just ask Olympic champions Belgium.

Ireland beat the number two side in the world 4-1 in front of a sellout crowd in Antwerp for their second Pro League victory over their hosts in five days.

Despite going behind to a goal from Antoine Kina, Ireland rallied with two strikes from Ben Johnson, a superb solo effort from Sean Murray and a late finish from Ben Walker.

Ireland finished this round of four matches with two close defeats to Argentina and the two victories over Belgium.

They will compete their first season in world hockey’s premier competition with a pair of games against both Great Britain and Germany next week in London.

'It's been a successful week'

"It was a very pleasing performance to end this block of the Pro League. The guys definitely implemented what we asked them to today. Three excellent team goals, fourth one was a bit scrappy, but we'll take it,” explained Tumilty.

“The lads have shown a lot more confidence to play at this level and we look forward to taking on Germany and Great Britain in London next week.

“Many people in world hockey would have thought, after we came away from India, that we might not have got any points in this league, but here we are on six points and we left some points behind against Argentina, particularly in the second game."

He continued: “It's been a successful week. Let's see what we can get out of next week. We have played against Great Britain in a number of games and Germany will definitely be a challenge.

“Hopefully there will be a good Irish support in Lee Valley because these guys deserve it.

“We've made great progress and hopefully can continue that next week. It's very good to get the win."

Daragh Walsh
Daragh Walsh won his 100th cap in Ireland’s 4-1 win over Belgium [Irish Hockey]

The two sides traded chances from penalty corners early on before the home side took the lead.

The ball was pushed across goal by Kina and turned into the net off an Irish stick.

Ireland weren’t behind for long, however. Some attractive interplay in attack from the Irish pulled the Belgian defence out of position and the ball found Johnson, who popped in the equaliser at the back post.

Ireland bookmarked the third quarter by scoring in the first and the last minutes.

Captain Sean Murray, who was again outstanding, won the ball in midfield to set his side on the attack. He found Walker who provided the perfect incisive pass for Johnson to flick home.

Ireland had to absorb a lot of Belgian pressure, but it came as no surprise that it was Murray who provided the breathing room their play deserved.

Once again, he won the ball, burst into the circle with pace and then found the back of the Belgian net with a super reverse stick shot.

Ireland’s defence was again brilliantly marshalled by Shane O’Donoghue and Luke Madeley, and they coped with all Belgium threw at them in the final quarter.

The icing on the cake came in the closing minutes when Walker knocked in a rebound after a penalty corner routine had broken down. The goal stood after the umpires had checked and found no obstruction.

Ireland held on for what is only their second win in twelve Pro League games but, in what was always going to be a learning process, they’ve shown that they are taking the lessons and applying them quickly.

And as if the appetite wasn't already whetted, Ireland and Belgium will next meet on the first full day of competition at the Paris Olympic Games on Saturday 27 July.