Monday 18 December 2017

Aidan Fitzmaurice

ireland u-21 1 andorra u-21 0

NOT all that pretty or memorable but a case of 'job done' with a home win in a European Championship qualifier.

That was the story for Ireland's U21 side as they beat Andorra 1-0, the goal from impressive young Ipswich prospect Dylan Connolly, at Waterford's RSC last night, the first game of the qualifiers for Euro 2017.

And Martin O'Neill, who was in Waterford alongside Roy Keane last night to check out the next generation would take the same outcome from Sunday's meeting with Poland if it was on the table.

Connolly, who got his break in first-team football with Shelbourne, was one of the stand-out performers for Ireland, with debutant Callum O'Dowda and local lad Kenny McEvoy also worthy of a scribble in O'Neill's notebook.

This was not quite the best game ever seen on Suirside and there was even a brief threat of dropped points agaist the group's minnows as Andorra scored nine minutes from tie, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.

But for manager King, it was simply a case of opening thre new casmpaign with a three-poibt haul.

"I thought we played decent at times. I would have liked a few more goals, a few more chances created but overall I am happy," said King. "One goal was enough. The goal they scored was clearly offside but that can happen, you can get caught as 1-0 is a delicate lead.


"We had loads of possession, something ridiculous like 85%, and you could see they were happy with the 1-0 defeat, a team like that is very difficult to face, when you set out against a team with that aim it can be very difficult.

"If you get a second goal things can loosen up and you might get more, but I am happy with the circumstances, it's our first game, it came on us quickly as no one else in the group plays until September, and I am delighted to get off to a winning start. The competition came around very quickly, we had a lot of new faces," added King, who handed out U21 debuts to Callum O'Dowda, Shamir Goodwin and Sean Maguire.

Recruiting young blood to the senior squad is clearly an issue - O'Neill has given debuts to just four players in his reign and they have an average age of 25 - and he is on the lookout for new players.

Connolly and Jack Byrne had good moments and Oxford man O'Dowda also has potential, but O'Neill and Keane will not have unearthed any gems at this early stage of the U21 campaign. The problem for Irish football, as it waits for these players to develop, is the restricted access to first-team football.

Of the Irish starting XI last night, only four can be considered as regulars for their own clubs, two in the Championship (the excellent Watford defender Tommie Hoban and Fulham's Sean Kavanagh) and two in League Two (Jack Connors and Callum O'Dowda).

The others are either on loan in a lower league (Danny Rogers, Conor Wilkinson) or are still awaiting their chance at clubs like Tottenham (Kenny McEvoy) and Manchester City (Jack Byrne), and while Waterford lad McEvoy will have enjoyed this game on home soil, they will all need to make a mark at club level before senior progress can even be considered.

A win was expected as the Andorrans had managed just one draw and no wins from their last 18 competitive games at this level and conceded 67 goals in that run.

But goals were hard to come by for the Irish side in Waterford.

It was a new squad, most of them playing together for the first time and a debut on the Waterford RSC surface for many, so naturally it took the boys in green time to get into their stride. The breakthrough finally came on 31 minutes, a well-worked move finished off by former Shelbourne man Connolly.

Wilkinson saw his shot saved, local lad McEvoy picked up on the rebound and Connolly was on hand to tap the ball over the line.

Jack Byrne tried to make it 2-0 just before the break but his shot from distance was saved by the keeper and put out for a corner.

Ireland pressed for another goal after the break, but despite the urgings in midfield from Byrne, none came.

Wilkinson blazed over when he was in a good position on 58 minutes while Byrne tested the keeper with a shot on 63 minutes.

The misses almost proved costly in the 81st minute when Andorra managed to score, but the gloriously-named Aaron Alburquerque's header was deemed offside.

Ireland almost scored in added time, the Andorran keeper saving at close range from O'Dowda and then sub Sean Maguire, the ex-Waterford United man making his U21 debut, but in the end a 1-0 win had to do and Connolly impressed his boss. "Dylan has been very good. He was probably man of the match last night and scored the goal," added King.

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