Thursday 17 October 2019

Portugal here we come

Lacey’s nudge in the right direction whets Irish appetite for Regions finals
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND............................2 NORTHERN IRELAND.............................0

THE FINAL piece in the Republic of Ireland’s UEFA Regions Cup finals jigsaw was eased into place at the AUL Complex on Saturday afternoon. Gerry Smith’s squad finished their preparations with a comfortable victory over Northern Ireland.

A goal in either half from David Lacey and Adam Foley was enough for the Irish to claim the win as they completed their warm-up matches prior to embarking on their UEFA adventure to Portugal next Friday. In truth, the Irish should have had a hatful of goals as they picked apart the Northern Irish defence at will. But both goalkeepers Grame McKibbin and Patrick Flood, who entered the fray at the break, kept the home side out with a string of point-blank blocks.

This tie was something of a slow burner in the opening stages as neither side went looking to force the early pace. But once Smith’s side edged in front after 23 minutes it was all one-way traffic. That opening goal came from a set-piece.

Danny Loughran whipped in a free-kick, Ross Carrig managed to get the slightest of touches to help the ball into the danger zone, but it was Lacey’s alertness in and around the goal line that paid dividends as the Killester United man was on hand to nudge home from close range.

Ireland should have gone further ahead when David O’Sullivan skipped by McKibbin, but with the goal at his mercy the Wicklow Rovers man fluffed his chance for a debut goal. McKibbin once again took centre stage in the final moments of the first half. He twice blocked out the Irish strike force, saving from both O’Sullivan and Lacey in one-on-one standoffs.

The home side made nine changes at the break and Smith ensured all his squad got a taste of the action. It was a couple of those substitutes, Adam Foley and Barr y Kavanagh, that combined forces to kill the game off just before the hour mark. Drifting deep, Kavanagh, picked up the ball just inside the North’s half and managed to ping a sweeping pass into the path of the inrushing Adam Foley.

The Glebe man took a neat first touch, pushed the ball on and then finished with the sort of composure that will prove vital when the finals finally kickstart tomorrow week. Foley was unlucky not to add more goals to his tally soon after, firing just wide, while Kavanagh went close also.

Flood managed to get his palms warmed in the closing stages, including one vital save to deny Ray Whelehan.

IRELAND: Brendan O’Connell; Conor Dillon, Ken Hoey, James Walsh, Ross Carrig, Danny Loughran, Ray Whelehan, Chris Barber, Lar Dunne, David Lacey, David O’Sullivan. Subs: Glen Keddy, Leighton Gleeson, Barry Kavanagh, Paul Breen, Adrian Walsh, Adam Foley, Neil O’Brien, Chris Higgins, Paul McCabe (for Loughran, Whelehan, Lacey, Hoey, O’Connell, Carrig, Walsh, O’Sullivan, Barber h/t).

NORTHERN IRELAND: Grame McKibbin; Daniel McMurray, Jeff Brady, Brian Hylands, Ryan Murray, Damien McParland, Ryan Moffat, Aaron Harris, Rayan Harvey, Barry Bloomer, Steven Garrett. Subs: Patrick Flood (for McKibbin h/t), Mark McClelland (for Harvey h/t), Trevor Parkhill h/t), William Armstrong (for Moffat 59 mins), Scott Irvine (for Harris 59mins). Referee: Damien Kilpatrick.

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