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o'neill strikes gold' in friendly

FIFA, in their wisdom, have already removed the not-so-popular February and August internationals from their calendar.

Maybe in the future they will do us all a favour and ban the November friendly games as well. Because, bar David McGoldrick's sparkling debut, games like last night's 4-1 win for Ireland over the USA at Lansdowne Road will be of little benefit to anyone in the short-term or long term.

We need only to recall that the high from Ireland's last 4-1 win in a friendly (Oman) lasted only as long as the next game, that 6-1 collapse at home to Germany

We did get to see some good moments, like the classy pass from McGoldrick which set up a first-ever international goal for Anthony Pilkington. In fact the Ipswich man single-handedly played more football in the space of a few minutes than the entire Irish side played in Scotland last weekend.

Some say that Irish football has been crying out for a playmaker for years. Others argue that we've had plenty of playmakers in that time, our managers just tend to leave them on the bench, in the stand or out of the squad altogether.

And McGoldrick showed enough touches of class to prove that be could be an asset into the future, though there remains the nagging doubt that when it comes to an important game like a Euro qualifier against Poland or Scotland, a class act like McGoldrick will watch from the sideline, benched (along with talents like Wes Hoolahan or Andy Reid) in favour of power and physique.

The win cleared some of the gloom from last week's defeat in Scotland and, given that Irish midfielders have traditionally come up short in terms of goal-scoring, the sight of Anthony Pilkington, Robbie Brady and James McClean getting on target is a plus.

But in reality, McGoldrick aside no real lessons were learned from this night. Martin O'Neill made 11 changes from the side which played in Scotland last Friday. Past managers of our national team have been tinkermen - Mick McCarthy once managed to make 11 substitutions during a single game - but this was taking things to the extreme.

With all due respect - to quote Tony Soprano - to the players involved in Dublin 4 last night, this was an Ireland B team. Five of the starting XI play in the Championship, one plays in the SPL, and the five Premier League players are, in the main, squad players at clubs who are in the bottom half of the Premier League.

With 19 weeks between now and the visit to Dublin of a mighty Poland side, what happened last night at Lansdowne Road will barely be in O'Neill's mind when he picks a team to face the Poles. Ciarán Clark did well to block an almost-certain USA goal 15 minutes from time but apart from that, the Aston Villa man did little to burn himself into he memory.

UNHAPPY

In fairness, it was a bright start, with Ireland taking the lead on seven minutes, more passes played in that single move than was played in the entire, grim, 90 minutes in Parkhead last weekend.

McGoldrick, making his international debut in his mid-20s (just as people like Kevin Moran, Paul McGrath, Matt Holland and Keith Andrews did in the past), played in a tasty ball which split - with little difficulty - the US back four, and Anthony Pilkington showed poise, precision and patience to slide a first-time shot over the body of keeper Bill Hamid, giving Ireland the lead on seven minutes.

Shortly after that we had the most solid defensive move of the night. A batch of Irish fans in the 'singing section', unhappy with the FAI's ticketing policy for the game in Scotland last week, had been chanting songs critical of John Delaney and within seconds of a banner stating their opinion, being unfurled, a battalion of Gardaí and stewards move in to remove the banner, probably the most shameful and unpleasant act this reporter has seen in 16 years of covering the national team at home and away.

Bear in mind that Irish players and FAI employees used words like "embarrassment" and "cheats" to describe FIFA when a Thierry Henry handball denied Ireland in the World Cup playoff against France. Words like that in Paris get the backing of the FAI, while just complaints from home fans in Dublin provoke a heavy-handed response from stewards and Gardaí.

By the 34th minute things had calmed down somewhat in the stands but the match brightened up, Mix Diskerud scoring from a move involving Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya, Diskerud last seen by Irish fans helping Rosnenborg dump Sligo Rovers out of Europe back in July.

Ten minutes into the second half Ireland got back in front. Robbie Brady, winning his 11th cap, picked up on some good work by McGioldrick to fire home his second international, a just reward on a good night for the Hull City man who added a second from a free kick on 86 minutes, in between a deflected goal from James McClean, and Shane Long also went close.


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