Conor Empey and Sam Hyland both enjoyed dream debuts as they scored for the Ireland men’s national hockey team against Malaysia in a 3-2 win on Tuesday night – It was the side’s first capped match in the country since 2019.
Empey scored twice as Ireland edged out a pacey Malaysian side at Comber Road in front of fans.
The game was the first of two scheduled friendlies, with the second set to be played on Wednesday night at the same venue.
Hyland had opening the scoring with his first international touch two minutes in before Empey got his first of the night soon after.
Malaysia stormed back with Abu Kamal Azrai and Razie Rahim hitting the net but Empey swooped with time running out for a memorable 3-2 success.
Coach Mark Tumilty was delighted to get the win over the 11th ranked Malaysians while also seeing his young guns make an impact.
“It was a very fast game and probably represent quite a bit of what we will face from Russia [in the World Cup qualifiers],” Tumilty said.
“It was good to win against a nation ranked above us so that is a big positive as was coming back after they equalised. Conor and Sam both scoring on their debuts, delighted for them for their hard work and effort.
“We have been trying to grow the number of players and that creates that extra competition for places. It puts a bit of pressure on them to perform but there will be pressure at the World Cup qualifiers so pleased from that point of view.”
Hyland scored with his first international touch with under two minutes on the clock from Ireland’s first chance – the goal was his first for an international side at any level.
After a smart control in the circle, his shot took a deflection off a defender’s foot to deceive goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman.
Empey made it 2-0 in the eighth minute after coming off the bench as a Shane O’Donoghue surge into the circle saw the ball pop and bounce to the forward who slotted home with glee.
After the swift start, Malaysia – coached by former Irish assistant coach Arul Anthoni – settled and had the greater control in the second quarter.
Three penalty corners were kept out while Irish goalkeeper James Milliken was in control of Abu Kamal Azrai and Azuan Hasan fired shots his way.
Ireland had the best of the early phases of the third quarter but without truly stretching the visitors’ defence and adding another goal.
Malaysia’s pace caused the hosts problems as they contrived to cough up a perfect chance when Azuan Hasan’s cross was turned in by a foot rather than a stick from point blank range.
The goal did come with mere seconds to go of the quarter when Azrai raced clear down the left and applied the perfect reverse-stick shot into the bottom corner.
Malaysia were level in contentious fashion when Razie Rahim’s drag-flick hit the backboard, Ireland arguing the ball had never left the attacking circle from the corner injection.
But Ireland finished the stronger, earning their first corners in the last three minutes of the match.
From the second one, Lee Cole’s drag was blocked by Othman but no one moved to clear it and Empey spotted the loose ball, converting the chance from close range.
The two sides meet again on Wednesday evening at Lisnagarvey (7.30pm).
Ireland: J Milliken, L Madeley, J McKee, K O’Dea, K Marshall, S O’Donoghue, P McKibbin, M Robson, B Walker, L Cole, S Hyland
Subs: D Walsh, S Murray, M McNellis, J Duncan, C Harte, C Empey, J Carr
Malaysia: H Othman, N Sumantri, M Jalil, A Hamsani, S Cholan, F Ashari, R Rahim, F Jali, A Hasan, A K Azrai, N Jazlan
Subs: N Hassan, Z P Mizan, F Saari, A Zain, A Rozemi, S Saabah, H Abdul