Ireland take 4th place in the Small Countries Association Championships after defeat to Northern Ireland in the bronze medal match.
The Island of Ireland derby lived up to its billing, with Northern Ireland running out 3:1 winners and avenging defeat from last year’s Championships. (26-24, 23-25, 22-25, 20-25).
The game had a Scrappy start, with both teams finding time to get into their flow. Neat passing by Ciagan Davoren setup some nice attacks for Noah Leamy and Liam Corcoran to settle the nerves, but NIR edged ahead and gained some breathing space at 14-10, forcing Barros into an early time out. Ireland fought back well, tieing the game 14-14, before setter Sam Harman forced a time out and then another as the Gardians man served Ireland into a 19-14 lead. Callum Grieve’s second time out worked and Northern Ireland mounted a comeback of their own.
Some brilliant blocking by Jan Comendant and some well organised defence got Ireland into a 23-18 lead but Northern Ireland don’t let go and soon it was a 1point game. Northern Ireland saved 3-set points before an inspirational substitution to bring on expert server Stepan Potapov reaped rewards and Ireland took the nail biting first 26-24.
The second started with the Comendant show as a back-to-back monster booms and blocks gave Ireland an early lead. Northern Ireland were soon into their rhythm with talisman Jack Mcurray serving and hitting across the court well, backing that up with some lovely guile to spot gaps in the Ireland defence. It was soon 10-4 to the North with Barros having to use an early time out again. That lead quickly become 14-9, and like the first set Ireland fought back well to get within a point. Ireland had to be creative to get round or through the tall NIR Middles, with Leamy using all of his power to burst the banks on several occasions. NIR kept the noses in front building a 21-17 lead.
One thing is for sure, this Ireland don’t give up and once more the deficit was one. Successive long serves gave NIR two set points which Corcoran saved in style, but it was to no avail as Northern Ireland made no mistake from their second chance and the match was all square at one-all.
Northern Ireland had momentum and stormed into a 3-nil lead before Lachlan Donnelly’s brute power got Ireland moving. This time Barros’ early time out didn’t come off and NIR were soon 9-3 up. Cork Volleyball Academy middle Pierce McFarlane came into the game with an instant impact. Northern Ireland kept building with captain Myles Reilly pulling the strings and stretching the Ireland defence. Seven-point leads were twice reduced to three. Fine work from Cawley, Grace and Corcoran clawed Ireland back to a solitary point before NIR got over the line to lead 2-1.
Liam Corcoran started the 4th set on fire and it was nip ‘n’ tuck, until Northern Ireland opened up a four point lead 12-8. One thing we learnt from the 3rd set is that Ireland will not lie down, and in a blink-of-eye Ireland were in the lead. Northern Ireland edged in front but once more Barros’ men scored three-in-a-row to level things up. Jack McMurray on to serve sparked the North and in no time there was a 5point gap which Ireland couldn’t claw back.
So Ireland take 4th after a pool stage win against Gibraltar and defeats to Andorra, Luxembourg and Northern Ireland.
A spirited performance ended in defeat and a fourth placed finish at the u20 Men’s Small Countries Association championships. Congratulations to the young Ireland team who have only come together this year, showing significant improvement as the tournament evolved. Special thanks to the volunteer coaching team of Antonio Barros, Amanda Burgio and Maya Vybornykh, as well as the Senior programme ticket of Andrei Molnar, Ionut Tarmure and Christina McKeogh who have all contributed to preparing the team.
v Gibraltar, Win 3:0 (25-11, 25-7, 25-22)
v Andorra, Lose 0:3 (19-25, 15-25, 13-25)
V Luxembourg, Lose 0:3 (15-25, 20-25, 18-25)
Bronze Medal Match
v Northern Ireland, Lose 1:3 (26-24, 23-25, 22-25, 20-25)