'B' specials fluff their last lines
Fringe players fail to take Cork chance as Belarus deliver classy display
In the build-up to this trip to a sunny Cork for last night's friendly with Belarus, the question bustling its way through the mind of Irish football was: which players could play their way into the 23-man squad for Euro 2016?
Friendly games can tell little, or a lot, but on the evidence of a timid and worrying display at home to Belarus, it was a case of players playing their way out of contention for the starting XI to face Sweden.
Darron Gibson started, David Forde, David McGoldrick and Eunan O'Kane came off the bench but all missed out on the final squad.
On a night when Ireland lost poorly to Belarus, the big losers for Euro 2016 were Gibson, McGoldrick, Forde, Harry Arter and Kevin Doyle, while the winners were Stephen Quinn and David Meyler, two men who were hopeful but not certain of a place in the squad.
McGoldrick tried when he came on a a second half sub but the Ipswich man didn't do enough, not just last night but over the course of an injury-scarred season, to win a place in the 23.
O'Neill has his mind on the squad made up before last night - and wonder, though Forde and Doyle can feel disappointed today.
Taking the first 45 minutes alone, before all those second-half substitutions disrupted the flow, changes which did put some life into a lacklustre Ireland, it was very hard to tell which was the side heading for the European Championships and which was the side ranked 77th in the world.
The boys in green had seven members of the starting line-up who played last season in England's Premier League or will play in it next season, while six of the away side play their football in the Belarussian league.
Most of Martin O'Neill's ideal starting 11 picks itself but lads like Stephen Ward, James McClean, Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark, Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy, who all started last night and then made the squad as expected, would have realistic ambitions of starting at least one game in France.
They did little to convince last night and it's clear that the boys who watched most of last night's action from the stand (keeper Darren Randolph didn't even strip for the game) will be back in possession of jerseys in the starting XI in time to face Sweden in Paris.
Ward and McClean worked well together in the opening stages and Ward scored a nice goal but they and their team-mates were unable to find an answer when Belarus took control of the game and took the lead.
Aiden McGeady didn't do enough on his big audition and while Daryl Murphy worked hard, he struggled to really test keeper Sergei Chernik and the Waterford man will have to watch as O'Neill starts with Shane Long and/or Jon Walters up front against the Swedes.
The XI picked by Belarus last night was far more ordinary-looking than the team fielded by the Dutch in Dublin, no €35million players like Memphis Depay on view here. BATE Borisov provided five of their starting eleven, the rest drawn from other clubs in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Belarus' weakness was evident in the size of their squad, which had just four outfield players on the bench, yet the away side showed far more vigour and effort than Holland last week.
The Cork crowd, watching Ireland play a recognised international in the city for the first time in 31 years, were duly shocked to see Belarus take the lead.
Mikhail Gordeichuk, who plays for BATE Borisov, hasn't scored too many goals for the national team but it's unlikely he'll score a better one than his 20th-minute strike last night.
Belarus were comfortable on the ball, composed when in possession, patient when not, and the lack of bite from the central midfielders Darron Gibson and David Meyler was a big concern.
Cyrus Christie, aware than he will only play for Ireland if and when Seamus Coleman is injured or suspended, had some good moments but he was also badly at fault for Belarus' second goal on 63 minutes, another big concern.
We know what damage the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eden Hazard can do to teams, so the manner in which Maksim Volodko waltzed past Christie and got a shot past Keogh and keeper Shay Given to claim their second goal on 63 minutes should fill us with dread.
Given, Gibson and Murphy were all replaced and it was sub Long who helped set up Ireland's 72nd-minute goal from Ward, his finish and his presence of mind in terms of being available to pick up on Long's flick a big asset for the ex-Bohemians man. Long showed in his cameo why he has to start but those most pleased with the outcome and the Irish display, from last night's affair in Cork will have been the scouts from Sweden and Belgium.