Wales served up one of the best results in their history – one which former hero David Kettle admitted brought him to tears – as they thrashed Ireland 4-0 to retain their place among hockey’s elite.
The comprehensive victory in their final match at the EuroHockey Championships in Belgium means they have guaranteed their presence in the top level for the next tournament in 2021.
The convincing win means instead of Wales dropping down a level, they have sent both Ireland and Scotland down, instead.
Knowing they needed to win by at least two clear goals to avoid finishing in the bottom two, they thrashed Ireland 4-0 with Gareth Furlong (2), Dale Hutchinson and Ben Francis all scoring.
They were faced with an Ireland side ranked 14 places above them in the world rankings – a team that hadn’t lost to Wales for more than five years.
Two first half penalty corners from Furlong put them in control and they duly killed of the game with further strikes from Hutchinson and Francis.
England’s earlier 3-0 win over Scotland meant both Wales and Ireland retained hopes of staying in the top tier – Wales with a two-goal victory margin, Ireland with a win of any description.
But it was Wales who delivered in stunning fashion, prompting Wales’ retired goalkeeping legend Kettle to tweet: “2015 = C Division. 2017 = B Division. 2019 = Top 6 in Europe.
“You are absolutely UNBELIEVABLE lads. You’ve never made any excuses despite the challenges we have faced.
“I’ve never shed tears like this before. OUR EURO DREAM!!!!! YOU LEGENDS.”
YESSSSSSSSSSS I fucking love you boys @HockeyWales
— David Kettle (@DragonKettle) August 24, 2019
England’s men also confirmed their place earlier in the day with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Scotland as Sam Ward scored a double and Ashley Jackson fired in a corner.
That meant they were guaranteed to finish fifth no matter what the result in the Wales game, while it left Scotland peering over their shoulders.
The Blue Sticks would have been hoping for a draw between Ireland and Wales to secure their status but such a heavy victory for Wales meant it was Derek Forsyth’s team who were relegated on goal difference, with Ireland propping up the table.
Following the earlier result, Wales knew they had to win by at least two clear goals in order to cement their place in the top tier for a second consecutive year for the first time this century.
None of that mattered to Furlong though as he produced two stunning corners in the first half to give his side a clear advantage at half-time, with Ieuan Tranter also on fine form in the Welsh goal.
They knew though that one Irish goal could quickly turn the tables so went on the attack in the third quarter and scored another thanks to a fine solo effort from Hutchinson.
Ireland then took off their ‘keeper at the start of the third quarter in a desperate attempt to salvage something but it backfired as Francis did well to control an aerial before racing into the circle and firing into the empty goal.
Those results mean England and Wales will head to The Netherlands for the next instalment of the EuroHockey Championships in 2021, while Scotland will line up in the EuroHockey Championships II.