Irish outgun Scots with second-half blitz

Ireland’s hurlers powered their way to a fifth successive victory in the cross-code series thanks to a dominant second-half display in Inverness last Saturday.

Scotland (0 goals 14 points) 14, Ireland (1 goal 15 points) 18

Despite a valiant first-half effort, which saw the Scots lead by a point at the interval, Drew McNeil’s side found themselves outgunned in the closing stages against the slick, skilful hurlers. A switch to a more direct running style brought the Irish the game’s decisive only goal early in the second half – knocking the stuffing out of a Scottish side who showed plenty endeavour, but lacked composure in front of the posts.

Last week’s six-point defeat at Croke Park had given the Scots a mountain to climb, but the shinty players came out fighting and Lovat’s Kevin Bartlett fired a free hit over the crossbar to give the hosts an early two-point lead.

It’s one of the many quirks of the hybrid rules fixture that  the Scots receive two points for firing a free hit directly over the crossbar while the Irish — in concession for allowing them to flick the ball up and volley it over — get only one.

As a result the Scots didn’t need to fire as many balls over as the Irish to rack up 10 points, five Bartlett free hits doing the damage in the first period.

Ireland skipper Neil McManus led the response, knocking  four single points over the crossbar, while the impressive Kilkenny star Richie Hogan added three points and Cahir Healy, Gareth Johnson and Darragh O’ Connell a further one apiece.

Points from distance continued to offer the best chance to keep the scoreboard ticking over, particularly as  both sides deployed a spare-man “sweeper” in defence. Norman Campbell excelled in the role for Scotland, with Tipperary’s Brendan Maher doing the same at the other end.

As tempers flared Steven MacDonald and John MacRae can consider themselves fortunate to escape censure as the hosts again attempted to rough up the Irish with the physical approach. But while the combative tactics might not have been for the shinty purists there seemed to be some method in it, as the Scots turned around with their noses in front.

In the final action of the half Scotland grabbed their first point from open play when Glen MacKintosh fired over after a nice exchange with Lee Bain.

The Irish response was to increase the tempo of their play in the second period, and a swift break on the right flank created the opening for Tipperary’s Patrick Maher to power home the decisive opening goal and put Ireland 13-11 to the good.

Soon after Lee Bain came close to a Scottish goal, only to be crowded out before he could get a shot away. Free hits still presented Scotland’s best chance for points, and Bartlett briefly levelled matters after another unerring effort from a tight angle on the right.

As Ireland began to find more and more space the points kept on coming, with McManus firing over a further three times — one of them after a superb exhibition of solo running from midfield. Gareth Johnson and Hogan also fired over to give the Irish clear daylight, before the Scots countered late on when the outstanding Connor Cormack got some reward for an impressive debut with the final point of the match.

In terms of the series standings the Irish won 5-1, as neither side netted the two goals needed for a bonus point. The previous week’s fixture in Dublin had ended 24-18 in Ireland’s favour – and with both sides netting twice in that game bonus points were awarded in addition to the two points the Irish earned for victory.

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