Scotland shinty boss Drew McNeil hailed his brave heroes last night as the Scots defeated Ireland's hurlers 22-21 in front of 40,000 fans at Croke Park. It was a brilliant result and gives the Scots a cushion, albeit a slender one, for the return leg in Inverness on 13 November.
Few would have predicted the Scots would win at the spiritual home of Irish hurling but McNeil insisted he always had belief.
"We didn't quite get the ball down in the first half the way we wanted and I was surprised how physical Ireland were in that period. We got ourselves into a good lead and I was a little disappointed not to win by more but any result here is excellent."
McNeil opted for a line-up replete with big hitters like international warhorse Norman Campbell, Duncan Rodger and Gary Innes. The Scotland coach had signalled his intent to quash the Irish with a policy of surface-only shinty which their hurling counterparts find difficult to combat.
Nevertheless, it was the Irish aerial game that prevailed in the opening minutes, with the home nation racing into a 7-0 lead after only five minutes.
Neil McManus battered an early point over the uprights from a distance before Shane Dooley - the scourge of the Scots last year in Inverness - struck a three-point goal past Stuart MacKintosh. When Dooley coolly added another point, McNeil must have been concerned the Irish would engulf Scotland.
Thankfully, it didn't turn out that way and Scotland were to head into the dressing room 13-11 to the good after taking control of the half. Fort William's Niall Macphee calmed nerves with a single point strike before Ronald Ross (2 points) and John MacDonald (2 points) ate into the Irish lead. Two three-point goals from Gary Innes and Finlay MacRae plus singles from Lochaber's Sean Nicolson and MacRae knocked the stuffing from the Irish and, although talisman Dooley managed a further six points with his hurley, it was advantage Scotland.
In the second half, it was Ireland trying to force a draw right until the end. Scotland's strikes came from Ross (4) and Innes (4). Ireland pressed through Dooley (2), John Rowney, McManus (2), Patrick Horgan (4) and Barry McFall, but Scotland held on.