Republic of Ireland 3
There are dream starts and then there are dream starts. It’s hard to imagine Ireland opening their Quadrangular tournament in a more ideal fashion than they did this afternoon in a rain-soaked Pike Rovers Complex.
Scotland, for the first time in over five years, have tasted defeat and, in turn, lost any real chance of retaining their title for a fourth consecutive time. Ireland, through a little bit of luck but mainly a mammoth effort, brought an end to Scotland’s decade long monopoly of the competition.
Penalties from Captain James Walsh in either half sandwiched an outstanding Keith Dunne goal to secure the win and put Ireland on the road to winning their first title in 12 years. Gerry Smith’s decision to play an aggressive press game to limit the Scots to a minimum of time and space proved a tactical masterstroke, but it would have been for nothing if not for three outstanding saves from Adrian Walsh in the first half which proved as, if not, more important than the goals.
Smith’s selection raised a few eyebrows and there was no starting place for Townley, Mooney or Meleady of Kilbarrack. Instead, he picked the St Michaels trio of James Walsh, Paul Breen and Christopher Higgins in his back four, which was completed by Conor Dillon. John Tierney-who had to be replaced by Stephen Murphy after 10 minutes because of injury- and Darren Dunne started in midfield with Keith Dunne and Shane Clarke up front.
Breen and Walsh in the heart of the defence were colossal and their ballast nullified the hulking Scottish strikers Richie Barr and Chris Renton, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, as the champions bombarded the Irish box with booming diagonal balls from Steven Masterson and Chris Malone.
The opening skirmishes were scrappy as the ball skidded across a drenched deck, making concentrated periods of possession next to impossible. The sight of Tierney hobbling off was unfortunate, but Murphy and Dunne assumed their long standing partnership to great effect and won the battle for midfield dominance.
In the 20th minute Walsh made the first of his saves; tipping Masterson’s 35 yard pile-driver onto the underside of the crossbar before the rebound was hooked away by the captain. The Carrick keeper was at it again when he felled Barr’s bullet header at the far post from a looping corner.
Shane Waters and Alan McCabe switched wings close to the half hour which almost paid dividends immediately. Running onto a Clarke layoff, McCabe skinned Malone before dispatching a low cross which Clarke connected with cleanly but failed to trouble Alan Flemming in the Scottish net.
Ireland went ahead four minutes before the break as Clarke, running on to a Shane Waters’ ball, collided with Masterson, and Ireland were awarded what looked a generous penalty. Walsh’s spot kick was picture perfect.
Just before the break Walsh’s third save, perhaps the best of the three, from another fantastic Barr header, was breath-taking. It also launched the counter attack that would result in Dunne’s goal. Dillon fed Clarke on the left wing, and his inch-perfect side footed pass bypassed the Scottish defence straight into Dunne’s patch, whose first-time strike was sublime.
McCabe and Waters switched wings again after the break, further confusing Scotland, who looked bereft of ideas for a majority of the second period. Clarke and Dunne rose in stature and their anticipation of one another’s movements improved vastly. Waters was outstanding in the final half hour and ran himself into the ground, defending and attacking with gusto.
In the 74th minute Clarke won Ireland another penalty, which, this time, was never in doubt. As the Janesboro man chased Murphy’s threaded pass, Flemming emerged from his goal and chopped him down. Walsh’s spot kick was a carbon-copy of his first.
Smith gave Mark Townley and David Hoban a run up front in the final 15 minutes and they may well start tomorrow against the Isle of Man. Scotland enjoyed the lion’s share of possession for the remainder but rarely troubled Ireland until the last kick of the game when Ciaran McElroy shot on the turn, but, of course, Walsh denied him.
A great win.
Man of the Match: Adrian Walsh. Without his exceptional form things would have been very different.
Republic of Ireland
1. Adrian Walsh 12. Conor Dillon 13. Christopher Higgins 5. James Walsh 14. Paul Breen 8.Darren Dunne 15. John Tierney 6.Alan McCabe 19. Shane Waters 9.Shane Clarke 11.Keith Dunne. Subs: 4. Garbh Gallagher 7. Brian McCrann 17. Marc Mooney 20. David Hoban 10. Mark Townley 3. Matthew Byrne 2. John Meleady 16. David Conroy
1. Alan Flemming 2.Will Snowdon 4. Tom Courts 5. Ross Campbell 6. Richie Barr 8. Chris Renton 12. Paul Tansey 17. Steven Masterson 18. Michael McKenna 19. Blair Batchelor 20. Chris Malone. Subs: 3. Ian Diack 7. Ciaran McElroy 9. Sean Jamieson 10.Chris Donnelly 11.Scot Pittman 14. Colin Leper 15.Chris Wilson 16. Steven Hislop 21. Richie Barnard