The 1-0 loss to Argentina was a pre-season friendly masked as the official introduction to the new Aviva Stadium for the Rep. of Ireland international side. The loss of Giovanni Trapatoni to illness and Robbie Keane’s 100th international cap overshadowed what was an otherwise workmanlike performance from the boys in green.
True, the concession of the match winning goal to new Real Madrid signing Angel DiMaria had all the hallmarks of Sunday league defending, but a rousing final 10 minutes and eye-catching individual performances from Keith Fahey, Paul Green and Damien Duff bodes well for the Republic ahead of some tricky 2010 European Championship qualifying matches.
The Aviva Stadium looked spectacular and the sight of Lionel Messi gliding across the playing surface during a busy opening 45 minutes delighted the large attendance. Marco Tardelli used the game as an opportunity to look at the likes of Cillian Sheridan up front in place of the absent Kevin Doyle and although the youngster toiled hard Ireland he failed to inspire and we simply must have the Wolves striker fit and healthy ahead of the upcoming 2012 campaign.
Argentina proved useful opponents – despite the disappointment of Maradona’s absence – and brought a star-studded side. The bottom line from the performance is that the Republic of Ireland remains a difficult side to beat at home, a tough team to break down, are diligent in defence if still erratic when in possession.
If Trapattoni’s side can tighten up in defence and learn to counter-attack with more conviction then qualification for the European Championships the summer after next remains a realistic target. Disappointingly, there doesn’t appear to be any \’breakthrough’ stars emerging from the current senior squad so a closer eye may have to be kept on the new Under-21 setup.
Noel Is King
Former Shamrock Rovers and Republic of Ireland Women’s International manager Noel King got his new tenure as U21 Coach off to a flyer with a 5-0 demolition of Estonia at the Tallaght Stadium prior to the senior side’s 1-0 loss to Argentina.
King’s first job as new U21 manager was to recall Anthony Stokes to the starting line-up and the Hibernian striker repaid his new boss with a dazzling individual display which yielded a brace of goals.
Previous incumbent Don Givens had fallen out with Stokes and refused to pick the striker for much of the previous year. The appointment of King has allowed the Hibs’ front-man to return to the international fold and he took the opportunity to remind Givens what he was capable of with two goals and involvement in the other three Irish strikes from James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Owen Garvan.
The Republic has struggled at U21 level over the past number of seasons but the fresh injection of King’s enthusiasm and tactical acumen will hopefully see an upturn in fortunes in the coming months.
Young Irwin makes his mark
In the same week Anthony Stokes resurrected his international career (albeit at U21 level) a famous Cork footballing name made his international debut for Sean McCaffrey’s U19 side. Liam Irwin, son of former Manchester United legend Denis, played for the Republic of Ireland in both the 0-0 draw and 1-0 friendly victory over the Ukraine at the Morton Stadium and Frank Cooke Park. Derby County’s winger Ryan Connolly netted the winning goal in the second encounter.
The young Bolton Wanderers midfielder made an instant impression with his neat first touch and intelligent use of the ball and looks set to become a mainstay of the side. Manager McCaffrey was impressed: “He is a good player. He has a great touch, great awareness and a great range of passing. We wanted him to work hard and to pass the ball, I thought he was superb”.
It may not be too long before the tannoy in the Aviva Stadium announces the inclusion of the Irwin name once again for a full Irish football international.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.