Aidan Kelly watched group D play out yesterday, where Ireland faced a tough job against strong German and Finnish sides to reach the power pools. Here’s what happened.
As the tournament hits full swing, the initial group games have finished up and shown us the meat of the competition in the form of power pool play. Pool D saw three Europeans in the form of Germany, Ireland and Finland alongside the unknown competitive entity of Egypt. On day one, Ireland made light work of the Egyptians while Finland took their game with Germany all the way in a tight game that finished 15-13 to the Germans. This set up an interesting second day where questions were raised of not only whether Ireland could topple Germany but if they would even beat Finland in the battle for contention.
Yesterday we were treated to the answers of those questions. The experienced Germans, primarily made up of Windmill winners Bad Skid and their rivals Heidees, had already taken the boys in green all the way earlier on in the season and seemed to be favourites going into the game. However, the Irish had generated a bit of a buzz thanks to their performances at The Confederations Cup and Windmill, finishing third in both.
After a suspenseful lead in, with both teams warm up in the pelting rain, the two were visibly disappointed as the game’s start had been disrupted almost literally right before the first pull in order to allow the pitches to drain. With an hour delay, both teams were forced to spend the extra hour keeping warm, staying relaxed and making sure they were both mentally and physically ready for the new start.
When the game could finally kick off, it proved to be the Germans that fared better in the opening spell. Within ten minutes of play, they had broken the Irish offence three times in a row, creating a 4-1 lead. With a combination of clever poach D and some hucks that just couldn’t come off for the Irish lads, Germany saw themselves pull away comfortably, taking half at 8-3.
Coming out in the second, it started to look like more of the same as the two sides traded to 10-5, until another German break seemed to all but kill any Irish chances of topping this pool. However, a series of heroic and hard-fought D points from Ireland, where their zone forced Germany to attempt to swing their way out of the back of the endzone numerous times, turned the tide somewhat. Ireland grabbed their first break of the game as Conor Hogan busted out a fine hammer to John Doherty. Getting this break boosted Irish spirits as they went out and continued their fine, industrious work on D, clinching a second break, and then a third. Suddenly it was 12-10 and there was a game on our hands. Cue a German time-out and chants of ‘D line’s on fire, their offence is terrified’ to the tune of ‘Freed from Desire’ by Gala.
But there was to be no party for the fighting Irish this time. Germany’s O line collected themselves and finally found their way past the zone that had them pinned back for the last three points and put one home, making it 13-10 – an important score with only 15 minutes on the clock left. From there, both teams traded out, leaving a final score of 15-12.
This win saw Germany in prime position to move into the all-European power pools in one of the prime top spots, grouped with Switzerland, Austria and Sweden. Ireland, however, would need to best Finland, fresh from their 15-0 win over the new boys, Egypt.
With this top spot all but secured, the German were left with a final game with the Egyptians, which actually proved to be the latter’s best match of the tournament so far. Putting five points past Germany showed that while the young Ultimate nation have much to learn, they are indeed learning and building as this tournament progresses.
These results meant that the final game of the day between Finland and Ireland had high stakes. As the skies cleared and the sun began to shine on St Albans, things were set up for an interesting affair.
In the opening stages, it was Ireland who struck the first blow. With some frustrating and frantic zone D, Ireland turned the initial Finn O line and got an early break. However, Finland recovered quickly, evening the score and getting an extra break for good measure, securing a 3-1 lead. Ireland seem to have the familiar problem of not starting their games on the right foot, taking their time to find their offensive rhythm and this again showed as they found a lot of their hucks being taken by the wind.
With the score tied at 5-5, it looked as if the heavy winds would dictate who came out on top but this is where Ireland started to take a hold of the game. Two breaks in a row around the hour mark of the game, including an eight minute point, proved crucial as, at 7-5, the Finns were left with a lot of work to do in order to get the win. They showed they were not going to lie down and give Ireland the second spot easily, as they broke the Irish O to take it to 7-7 before University of Limerick alumni connection of Padraig Sweeney and Niall McCarney linked up to take half for the boys in green.
This small lead looked like was going to be the deciding factor in the game. While Finland came out on defence to start the second half, their plucky handler defence forced a short field turn that was put home to keep the scores level for the fifth time of the game. But just like the Germany game, Ireland found an extra gear late on. After quickly taking their next O point, they broke Finland four times in a row to gain a sizable lead and as the 100 minute mark was hit at 13-8, the Finns were left with a mammoth task in front of them. While they did manage to stop the run at 13-9, Ireland’s O line was rested and ready to bring the game home as a giant huck to Conor Hogan was read perfectly before a give-go with Alan Fitzpatrick secured a power pool place for Ireland.
With these results, we now see Ireland grouped with Canada, Japan and France in Pool L, still in with a shot at quarter-finals, while Finland await tests from Italy and India in Pool N on Tuesday and Wednesday.