Ireland has its sights set on a playoff run at the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship and looked the part after two games in Pool F, cruising by the Netherlands and Korea with a goal differential of 18.
Its third game in three days, however, against a physical Latvia team with a day of rest, was a different challenge.
“They were a big physical team that plays together a lot,” said Brian Smyth. “We need to clean up the little things and this team showed how exposed we can be.”
Ireland led by two in the third quarter, but Latvia kept coming, ripping off a three goal run to take a lead with three minutes left, putting Ireland’s grip on Pool F in danger.
Ireland earned a man-up advantage and Thomas Burke tied the game with under two minutes to play, with the team remaining calm.
Overtime was heart-pounding, as Latvia’s goalkeeper Ryan Richters stonewalled Burke’s first chance. Latvia then had a man-up advantage, but Ireland goalkeeper Joe Walsh stepped up with a series of crucial saves.
Ireland weathered the storm, and made no mistake with its first chance in the second overtime period, as Tadhg O’Riordan buried a shot from distance.
“We were a little tired today but we pulled through,” said Joe Walsh.
The sentiment around the team was one of relief but also determination to fight through a tough schedule. Ireland knows to give itself the best chance as possible in the playoffs it needs to keep its foot on the gas.
“We have to go 4-0, go out with a win and keep scoring since every goal counts,” said Walsh.
Latvia forced Ireland to rise to a challenge and find another level that will be required to grind out wins in the business end of the championship.
“I think today was a tougher test for us than usual, and we needed that,” said Walsh. “We had some adversity but we were able to push through it.”
Ireland still is where it wants to be, atop Pool F, with one game on Sunday and the day of rest at the right time before the playoffs begin on Tuesday. The team has a top five offense and defense by goals-per-game in San Diego which bodes well.
“We need to work on some things that might have got by in other games, but we saw what we needed to do, said Smyth. “We can put it all together moving forward.”