herald

Wednesday 19 December 2018

'B' teams not too special

Poverty of options up front highlighted in low quality tie
Republic of Ireland's John Egan and Iceland's Kristjan Finnbogason
Republic of Ireland's John Egan and Iceland's Kristjan Finnbogason

A man from Brentford commits a foul, an opponent from Bristol City steps up and curls a free kick past the 'keeper from Sheffield Wednesday.

No one in the Dublin crowd of 37,241 (official attendance) was under the misapprehension that last night's friendly between Ireland and Iceland would be top-drawer stuff.

But this was Championship fare. At best. And it's fitting that some of the better moments of the 1-0 win for Iceland came from Championship players Callum O'Dowda, Eunan O'Kane and Daryl Horgan when they escaped from the bench and came on.

On Friday night, just like the ambassador and the Ferrero Rocher, we were spoiled, all bar two players (not counting Gareth Bale) in the Ireland-Wales game earning their keep in England's Premier League.

Last night? Just three players from English top flight clubs in the Ireland side, none in the opposition, and in fact the men in the away side earn their crust at outfits like Hammarby, Horsens and Tromso, more like the places that Kurt Wallander would visit while trying to solve another one of those Scandi-murders than the elite clubs of Europe.

Yet it was one of those Icelanders who toils away at the foot of England's second tier, Bristol City man Hordur Magnusson, who scored the only goal of the game, a tasty free kick after a foul by John Egan on Kjartan Finnbogason which got past the grasp of Keiren Westwood.

In terms of the boys from that league who stepped up to the international stage for the first time, it was a mixed bag as debutants John Egan and Conor Hourihane got their debut caps out of the way and gave manager Martin O'Neill some, but not much, food for thought.

There were flashes from the two players, in their 63 minutes of action, to suggest that they can play a part in events like this in the future, though with a queue of players ahead of them in the queue already, it's going to take a big effort for them to force their way into the squad or the team.

Excite

Egan will learn, from matters like the foul which led to Iceland's goal, and get better. Later on we had the excitement of debuts off the bench for Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan, a big deal for the League of Ireland community which still claims the ex-Dundalk men as their own, and Horgan did excite the crowd while O'Dowda also showed nice touches.

But Martin O'Neill learned little last night, a game which again forced the paying public to ask why they bothered.

Billed as a senior friendly, this was a 'B' international: only two of the Irish XI last night started in the World Cup draw with Wales five days earlier while even Iceland let their big names have a few days off and brought in the 'B' specials, making eight changes from the side which won away to Kosovo last week.

It was good to see Kevin Doyle get a game, his first start in green since he suffered that nasty injury against Switzerland 12 months earlier, but the friendly again underlined the poverty of Ireland's options up front.

With James McClean lumbering alongside Doyle in that front line, you'd have to wonder: what's the point?

McClean is one of the first names on the team-sheet with Ireland, but he's not a centre forward. Last night was an opportunity to throw Cork City's Seán Maguire for a debut, maybe even offer a recall to Cillian Sheridan.

We did get debuts for Egan, Hourihane, Horgan, Andy Boyle and a rare outing for Stephen Gleeson, but bar the fact that Iceland's 'B' team is not too shabby, few lessons were learned.

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