Johannesburg – After six days of action at the North West University in Potchefstroom, Ireland and South Africa were the last two standing with an opportunity to win the inaugural FIH Hockey Nations Cup, and earn an invite to the FIH Hockey Pro League next season.
And after some nervy moments, it was the Proteas who weathered the pressure to claim a thrilling 4-3 victory in the final on Sunday.
South Africa couldn’t have asked for a better start as they took the lead through a top strike from Dayaan Cassiem.
The second nearly followed moments later when the ball got through to Senzwesihle Ngubane, but his snatched shot produced nothing. As SA pulled back slightly, Ireland filled the vacated space and almost found an equaliser as Benjamin Walker’s shot hit Hendrik Kriek before hitting the post.
Ireland won the game’s first penalty corner and the ever reliable Shane O’Donoghue fired home a cracker to level the scores. SA had an immediate chance to level, but Jacques van Tonder fired his penalty corner wide.
Ireland had another penalty corner, but it was cleared off the line by Jethro Eustice, who showed his cricketing pedigree.
SA thought they had taken the lead when Cassiem produced a sensational run and found space, but somehow missed with the goal-mouth open.
The Proteas, however, didn’t have to wait long as Cassiem to put his team back in the lead with a reverse stick strike into the bottom-right corner moments later.
In the second half, SA scored a goal through a remarkable finish by Tevin Kok – arguably the player of the tournament – who lobbed the opposition keeper to stretch their lead.
Ireland, however, slowly but surely started to work their way back and pulled a goal back with a rocket from O’Donoghue.
With just 10 seconds left of the third quarter John Mckee saw his deflected shot level matters for Ireland.
The South Africans saw Kriek make an important save and the hosts led a ruthless counter-attack, which saw Cassiem taken out and a penalty stroke awarded. Mustapha Cassiem, his brother, stood up and took the chance, finishing past David Fitzgerald perfectly.
The South Africans then held on and booked a ticket to the Pro League in 2023-24.