Ireland has proven to be a smash mouth competitor in the tournament and they set that tone from the very first whistle. In the first 23 seconds they fought hard to win the possession and Michael Shea continued the momentum to stick one in the back of the cage.
Out of the gate, Ireland’s aggressive defense and tough rides made Serbia struggle to establish themselves on the floor. Ireland dropped 2 more, Brian Gillis assisted by Stephen Keogh and Andrew McBride assisted by Michael Cregan, making the score 3-0 within the first five minutes of the game.
But there was a counterforce that had shown itself in prior games and will keep the Serbian team surging through all 4 quarters of this one, the brothers Gajic. The pair put up the two Serbian goals of the quarter, while playing man down, bringing the game within 1, 3-2 Ireland. The last goal of the quarter would be score unassisted by Tim O’Connor extending the Ireland lead 4-2.
Serbia started the second period with 1:55 left in the power play and after a tough face gained possession but failed to score. With several possession changes, good aggressive rides, and a handful of penalties, the keepers stole the show in the first 8 minutes of the quarter. Serbia’s Aleksandar Jovanovic and Ireland’s Micahel Cregan came up huge shot after shot, stomping all assaults on the cage.
Ilija Gajic would once again emerge to break the silence on the scoreboard bringing Serbia tight on Ireland’s heels, score 4-3 Ireland. In a power play, Keven Owens scored the only Irish goal and final goal of the quarter extending their lead by 2, 5-3 end of first half.
Serbia started the third quarter man down for 55 seconds but after winning the face, they ran a successful stall and killed roughly 45 seconds from the clock.
With even numbers, Ireland’s Keogh took advantage of a scrambled Serbian defense making the score 6-3 with an assist from O’Connor but Serbia’s Aleksandar Gajic with help of Marko Celic quickly responded, bringing the score to 6-4, Ireland’s lead.
The back and forth continued with Ireland’s Gillis finding Owens and Micahel Bradshaw finding Tyler Roche creating a 4 point lead, 8-4 Ireland. To answer back, Aleksandar Jovanovic would make quite the play with a low shovel shot to add one to the Serbia point total, 8-5 Ireland. With just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter, Serbia came out with a defense aggressive and prepared to hit and double and triple team for the takeaway.
An illegal substitution interrupted this intensity sending Serbia’s Lazar Matijasevic to the box and gave Ireland’s Keogh a quick inside shot, score moved to 9-5 Ireland. However, Matijasevic wasn’t finished, with a feed from Ilija Gajic, he got one back for Serbia with 3 seconds left ending the quarter 9-6.
The fourth started with good intensity and physicality, a couple high hits amplified the tension. After a few transitions Ireland’s Drew Wichmann sent his feed from Owens to the back of the net, Ireland with the lead 10-6.
The second half of the fourth quarter contained some of the most epic moments of the tournament so far. Serbia’s Ilija Gajic, fed by Nik Bilic and Ryan Pavic, put 2 in the cage bringing the Serbian team within 2 goals with 4:28 left in the game. Within the last minute of the game Ilija fed his brother Aleksandar Gajic twice for 2 quick goals tying the game with 7 seconds left. The surge was incredible and the fans were at their feet.
But the luck of the Irish wasn’t to be denied, Brian Gillis would stuff a feed from Andrew McBride right down the center with 1.5 seconds left in the game. It was an exciting hard fought win for Ireland and an amazing display of grit by Serbia.
Photo Credit: John Cahill