Hockey: Super start books Irish ticket for Rio games
A DREAM start paved the way for Ireland's wonderful win over Malaysia in Antwerp and the reward for the hockey heroes is, almost certainly, a ticket to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Yesterday's victory not only clinched fifth place in the tournament, it also secured revenge against a side which beat the Boys in Green 4-2 in the early stages of the competition.
This time, when it really mattered with Olympic qualification at stake, the Irish were in control from five minutes into the most important match of their lives as Peter Caruth seized the initiative.
First, the livewire Ulsterman delivered a millimetre perfect cross from the right for Kyle Good to slide home the opener and three minutes later Caruth put himself on the scoresheet with sweetly rising shot to the top left corner of Jamaluddin Roslan's goal.
The Malaysians had a handful of chances to reply during the second quarter but goalkeeper Davy Harte was repeatedly quick off his line when it mattered.
Ireland lifted the siege nine minutes after the break when Alan Sothern knocked a pass from Mitch Darling out of the air and past Roslan from close range.
Malaysia finally broke their duck with five minutes left on the clock when Harte was beaten as Faiz Helmi Jaiz jinked the ball cleverly over the sprawling goalkeeper at a penalty corner to make it 3-1. However, the Irish were out of sight shortly afterwards when a John Jackson pass triggered a counter-attack which was finished to the back board by a diving Mitch Darling.
Yesterday's triumph means that only the most bizarre combination of events at forthcoming continental championships can deny Craig Fulton's team their place in Rio de Janeiro.
This will be Ireland's first appearance in the Olympic hockey arena since 1908.