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Sunday 11 December 2016

Ireland scale the Rock but now it's time for hard work

Ireland boss Martin O'Neill
Ireland boss Martin O'Neill

Ireland's school-going kids have all been back at work after the summer holidays for a few days now.

Irish football's summer break - and last night's game here in Faro was indeed a holiday - is over, and the hard work starts today after the three points and the clean sheet garnered from this September jaunt to the Algarve.

Martin O'Neill will have learned little - nothing, truth be told - from the 4-0 win over Gibraltar and the well-paid Ireland boss will earn his keep in the next few days. Because Ireland's participation at Euro 2016 will not be decided by games like the one last night - Ireland were always going home with the three points - but games like the Dublin duel with Georgia.

Yesterday was what can be boxed off as 'A Good Day' for Irish football: Ireland won, scored a few goals, kept a clean sheet, avoided injuries and suspensions; Scotland lost in Tbilisi, allowing Ireland move back into third place; and Poland lost in Frankfurt, so a second-place finish for Ireland is on.

As an added bonus, there was a Saipan-style cock-up by the Scottish FA, with a delayed flight home from Tbilisi, so the tired and grumpy Scots could lose more ground at home to Germany on Monday.

But all the hard work, and last night's stress-free effort, will be worthless if Ireland don't dispatch Georgia in Dublin on Monday night.

O'Neill went into the game clearly with Georgia on his mind, as three of the five players who were one booking away from a suspension were left out of the side to make sure they stayed free from any hassles before that key date with the Georgians.

Conceding

The longest that Gibraltar have held out in these qualifiers without conceding a goal was 28 minutes (against Germany) and Christie, making his competitive debut, beat that by a minute when he netted that key opening goal.

Gibraltar keeper, Jordan Perez, had been worked pretty hard in the first half while Shay Given was a virtual spectator, although he did need to stay awake at times, like when Ciaran Clark conceded a corner kick, while Given also had to pull off a save when John Paul Duarte tried his luck from distance.

But once Ireland had managed to get their noses in front with Cyrus Christie's nice goal, the nerves eased.

Gibraltar were a shambles when they played Ireland in Dublin last year but they have indeed progressed since then - and there was a shape about them last night, at least in the first half, though their shambolic nature crept back in the second half as Ireland took a firm hand.

Keane made it 2-0 three minutes after the break with a simple tap-in after some dismal home defending failed to deal with Walters' cross, and Gibraltar were guilty of self-harm on 50 minutes - Liam Walker felling Wes Hoolahan in the box and Keane stepping up to score the resulting penalty.

Game over, with a full 40 minutes to play, and the Slovenian referee could have done us all a favour and blown up then as what followed was not easy on the eye. Ireland slacking off - Aiden McGeady was woefully off-target with his first shot having come off the bench - and Gibraltar's energy sapping away.

Thankfully, sub Shane Long woke us all up with a well-placed headed goal on 79 minutes from a Hendrick cross.

Job done - so Faro was fine, but Georgia could be grim.

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