Republic of Ireland 1
Northern Ireland 0
For the first time in 12 years and four tournaments, the Umbro Quadrangular Tournament title no longer belongs to Scotland, as the Republic of Ireland won the competition for the first time since 2001 this afternoon, after beating Northern Ireland in the Fairgreen Grounds.
During a grueling three consecutive days of football, Gerry Smith’s squad won all three of their games, scoring nine goals without conceding once. The monumental effort that is required of players and staff alike to prevail in such a demanding and intense environment is nothing short of Trojan and, the entire Irish set up deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the manner in which they represented their country in Limerick this week.
Indeed, the Limerick football clubs, their members and in particular, the fans, were a credit to the junior soccer game in Ireland, as well as Irish sport in general. The passion for the amateur game is palpable in the city and there could not have a more fitting location for this historic day.
Today’s game was admittedly not the most exciting spectacle, but despite playing 270 minutes of football over 72 hours, both sets of players were outstanding in their endeavour. Paul Breen, the JSP Player of the Tournament, scored the game’s only goal in the 22nd minute-no one deserved it more.
In the heart of the Irish defence, he and St Michael’s team mate, James Walsh, were the bedrock on which Ireland’s triumph was built upon. Their commanding presence in the air and on the deck, nullified Scotland in the first game, shut out Isle Of Man yesterday, and limited Northern Ireland to less than five attempts on goal today.
For Walsh, winning his 80th cap today, the victory is a just reward for his amazing service to his country and the selfless leadership he has demonstrated throughout his career. Additionally, the men from Tipp accounted for five of Ireland’s nine goals; not a bad innings for two burly centre halves.
To only mention their contribution would be remiss. Darren Dunne and Stephen Murphy in midfield played almost every minute , and the Sheriff YC duo battled in the trenches tirelessly,providing a platform for the likes of Shane Waters, Shane Clarke and Alan McCabe to demonstrate their fantastic footballing acumen, and give all those in attendance some magical moments that will live long in the memory.
Northern Ireland had certainly not come to make up the numbers, and although it was unlikely, they knew a win could have seen them emerge as champions. Prior to Breen’s goal and for a good 20 minutes in the second half, it looked as though they might spoil the party. They gave the Republic a physical dust up, and in the opening quarter, with home side looking a little lethargic, it was case of squeaky bum time.
The passing and movement of Aaron Walsh, Kyle Cherry and Gary Henderson was compact and fluent, meaning the Republic, still trying to breathe life into aching joints and bones, looked far from champions elect. But once Breen’s looping header broke the deadlock, the tables turned and like yesterday, Waters and Clarke made their presence felt.
When Gerry Smith brought on Mark Townley, David Hoban and Brian McCrann, the gulf in class became more evident. Clarke would hit the upright with powerful drive and go close on two other occasions. Townley, on the right wing, looked more like his old self and along with the ultra impressive Hoban, was a major threat from the moment of his introduction.
When the final whistle blew the player’s jubilation drove home just how much this achievement meant to them and, if they can be retained as a group, it shouldn’t be too long before they repeat the feat.