I’ve seen a few things in my time, but nothing quite as dramatic as this.
The following is not based on a true story: it is a true story …
It’s late on Sunday evening, October 27, 2019
I’m in the Irish Star sports desk office, finished work, but watching on television.
The clock is winding down, and we are literally in the last seconds of the game.
A few more ticks of the game clock and it’s all over. The Ireland men’s hockey team will qualify for the Olympic games.
They are playing Canada, in Vancouver.
I know nothing about men’s hockey, couldn’t name one of the Ireland team, but win this game and they will be playing Tokyo 2020.
It’s the second of the two games between the two, and Ireland are up 6-5 on aggregate.
Ireland in green shirts, Canada in red.
Oh, oh … Canada are on the attack, everything riding on this laster-than-last-ditch effort …
The player in red — for danger — flicks and feints his way at breakneck speed, the deadly puck in front of him, into the Ireland penalty area … evades a number of tired, tired Irish tackles …
The clock is about to hit zero: time up …
He veers left of goal, he’s heading for the end line as one of the Irish defenders left in his wake stretches his desperate hockey stick out in the player’s direction… you would hardly even call it a tackle, his stick is just there, limp on the floor …
The Canadian guy stumbles and actually falls over as he tries to whip the puck across the goal.
Too late, the puck rolls harmlessly over the end line.
The referee blows his whistle.
It’s all over!
I’m emotionally shot just looking on, thrilled …
The spent and overwrought Ireland team and their coaching entourage, however, have gone bananas … jigging, kissing, hugging and roaring.
Sweaty tears of relief and joy unbound.
Years of striving, training camps, countless sacrifices forgotten … all worth it for this …
They have done it!!!
HOLD ON… the referee is arguing with one of the Ireland players … what’s going on here, why is the player in green so angry, and the referee telling him to go away?
The TV commentators are unsure, we’re unsure, but this is not over yet …
There is going to be a video review of that final play!
They’re going upstairs, as has become such a feature of so many top-level sporting contests.
Up to a little room where the designated official studies photographs and video footage of any controversial incident.
We watch our own television replays as we wait for the decision from the inscrutable video official.
The referee is by now being harassed and pursued by irate Irish players with heavy wooden sticks in their hands, and trying to assert his authority, and control his own emotions.
He is waving them away, but they keep coming.
The Canadian group are watching and hoping too …
Over and again we watch on TV as the Irish defender drops that tired stick onto the floor, and it points towards attacker and puck … it doesn’t look good: that’s why the forward fell, he has stumbled over the Irish stick and it has unbalanced him. And that is why he has tumbled to the ground.
There is another question: did the puck go out of play before or after the referee blew the final whistle.
The incident doesn’t look great … of course the Irish commentary pair think it doesn’t look that bad … a penalty corner to Canada at worst.
They would, wouldn’t they?
But I’m worried.
Now normally I could care less about the fortunes of a hockey team … but this is Ireland, and this is the Olympic games we are talking about.
The last second!!!
If Canada get a penalty stroke, and score it, the teams will finish 6-6 on aggregate and there will be a penalty shoot-out,
Nominated players have to take the puck on the half-way line, run with it towards the goal and the goalkeeper, and they have five seconds to score a goal.
The man in spectacles upstairs is still looking at the footage.
Amazing what I attribute to this man I know nothing about, not even his name or where he comes from.
The commentators give me the information, but I don’t take it in …
He’s just this guy, this official … he’s all officials … and he now has this incredible power … the power to send Ireland to the Olympic games or back to start yet another long qualifying campaign … so arrogant, milking the moment …
Finally his chance to get his own back on these top athletes, representing all those guys who swanned up and down the hockey court of his youth, leaving him, enthusiastic and dedicated, but useless, in their wake … what has he got against Ireland, my Ireland?
How I see him at this moment, anyway …
Come on, man … foul or no foul?
Foul, and it’s a penalty corner — or worse, a penalty stroke — to Canada. No foul and Ireland are through.
As we wait we establish, first of all, that the whistle blew after the puck went out of play.
So that one is ruled out …
Hockey’s answer to Simon Cowell delivers his verdict: it’s a penalty to Canada!!!
The Canadian guy steps up, he shoots … the Ireland keeper, all mask, lumbering armour and padding, guesses right and moves to his left.
The ball squeezes under his body and into the cage.
An elated Canada versus a dejected, deflated Ireland.
Advantage, guess who?
Ireland must somehow pick themselves up for this all-or-nothing final finale.
The Irish guys start off great and score their first two … Canada miss one, they miss another!
Elation and positivity peep above the parapet again …
Oh no, the next two Irish guys either miss or the Canadian keeper saves.
Now it’s sudden death.
The next Irish guy goes … he advanced on goal, tries to draw the keeper … and fouls the ball with his foot …
The next Canadian sets off: he scores, they are through, he misses and the dice with death continues.
It’s just him, his whole world now reduced to hockey stick, puck, goalkeeper and goal cage.
I’m on the edge of my office chair, beseeching … but not really believing …
He advances … he feints … he shoots … and he scores!
Canada are in the Olympic games
Ireland are out.!!
Fair play to the delirious Canadians.
And to the men in green laid low on another far away field…
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