Saturday 18 November 2017

Kilbane: 'The worst night of my career'

Kevin Kilbane looks on in disbelief after Ireland’s defeat to Cyprus 10 years ago
Kevin Kilbane looks on in disbelief after Ireland’s defeat to Cyprus 10 years ago
A shell-shocked Ireland manager Steve Staunton arrives back in Dublin a day after Ireland’s hammering by Cyprus

In a decade of commemorations in Irish history, today is the anniversary of one event that no one involved will want to remember.

The day in a sun-baked Cyprus that the Republic of Ireland side came up with the most embarrassing result in the nation's history, a 5-2 loss away to Cyprus which carved scars that would take a long, long time to heal, a game which effectively finished Steve Staunton as manager of the international team.

"We were crushed," Kevin Kilbane recalled. "Although we were missing some key players, it was an embarrassing result. Next to the 4-0 against Holland it was my worst ever result in an international and certainly the worst I'd felt after a game."

Maybe it was bound to happen as the build-up to the game in Nicosia was odd. Manager Staunton was not officially in charge of the team, as he was serving a one-match suspension having been sent from the dugout during the 1-0 loss to Germany, Stan kicking a water bottle and throwing away his laminate badge.

Illness to Bobby Robson meant that coach Kevin MacDonald was the main voice on the touchline on the day, and perhaps the tone for what was to come had been set when the dour MacDonald spoke instead of Staunton at the pre-match press conference.

Injuries had also hampered Ireland with five key players absent (Shay Given, Stephen Carr, Ian Harte, Steven Reid and Kevin Doyle).

But, apart from the fact that Paddy Kenny was making his competitive debut it was still a strong Irish side. The back four (Finnan, Dunne, O'Brien, O'Shea) had 134 caps between them at the time and, bar Aiden McGeady and Clinton Morrison, the Ireland XI all came from the Premier League.

Things began well, Stephen Ireland putting the Irish side 1-0 up and even when the sides were level at 2-2 at half time, there was little panic. But the second half was an utter disaster, Cyprus scoring three times in 15 minutes while Richard Dunne was sent off.

Irish football was rocked to the core, not just by a defeat but the manner of it, especially the stat that against lowly Cyprus, Ireland had conceded five goals for the first time in 24 years.

Pundits got stuck in, like Liam Brady: "This was a total embarrassment, with no cohesion, no character and no excuses". The players didn't sugar-coat it: "the worst night of my football career" (Robbie Keane), "a joke" (Damien Duff).

Blades keeper Kenny was really shaken by the loss, immediately dropped out of the squad to never play for Ireland again, and rookie Wayne Henderson had to step in for the home qualfiier with the Czech Republic four days later, where a 1-1 draw was dug out.

And Cyprus? Claims by Staunton's defenders (and there were few of those) suggested that the Cypriots were a team on the way up and it was no disgrace to lose. Cyprus would get one point from their next four qualifiers while within months, Staunton was gone.

Saturday October 7, 2006, Nicosia: Cyprus 5 Ireland 2

Kenny (Sheffield U); Finnan (Liverpool), O'Brien (Portsmouth), Dunne (Manchester C), O'Shea (Manchester U); McGeady (Celtic), Kilbane (Everton), Ireland (Manchester C), Duff (Newcastle U); Keane (Tottenham, cap),Morrison (Crystal P). SUBS: Lee (Ipswich T); O'Brien (Newcastle U); Douglas (Leeds U).

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