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Friday 6 December 2019

Win over the white caps will do little to sway McCarthy

Republic of Ireland 3 New Zealand 1

The Republic of Ireland’s Sean Maguire celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
The Republic of Ireland’s Sean Maguire celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

This was a friendly in name and in personality but that's not to say it was devoid of meaning.

The pictures and memories from this game will be cherished by those players who enjoyed personal landmarks, be they first caps or first goals.

Derrick Williams, Seani Maguire and sub Callum Robinson got off the mark to deliver the win for Mick McCarthy's side.

Teenage debutants Troy Parrott and Lee O'Connor played their part in delivering assists.

But it's hard to construct the argument that this fixture will have seriously influenced Mick McCarthy's thinking with Monday's year-defining date with Denmark in mind.

McCarthy had indicated beforehand that it was 'unlikely' that any of his opening XI here would be lining up on the pitch before the Euro 2020 decider.

Contender

Alan Browne is possibly a contender, but the major question mark was Robbie Brady with the manager hinting that the longer he left the Burnley player on the pitch, the more negative it might be for his prospects of a Danish start.

Brady was left out there for 90 minutes, after a mixed bag of an evening.

In truth, it was hard for any player to truly put their hand up in an encounter that was low key, even by the normal standards of a non-competitive international.

There were thousands of empty seats and an atmosphere that was more comparable to the matinee showing of a Christmas movie.

It was entertaining in its own way, however, with Ireland seeking to try and pass the ball and retain possession. New Zealand weren't exactly putting them under much pressure.

Ireland's midfield three of Browne, the tidy Josh Cullen and Jack Byrne were comfortable. For all the attention that is focused on Byrne due to the step up from League of Ireland level, he's played against better midfield opponents this year.

In Europe, he thrived in pressure matches against Brann (Norway) and Apollon Limassol (Cyprus). The only question mark here surrounded the pressure that comes with an Irish start but he had played in front of a bigger crowd in the FAI Cup Final.

He was the link between midfield and attack, while there was a contrast in wide areas with Brady seeking to get more involved in general play from the right whereas Maguire looked to cut in from the left and support Parrott.

Indeed, it was the ex-Cork City favourite that succeeded in getting into the best positions before the interval, albeit without being able to find the final touch.

His darting early run across the park blindsided the New Zealand defence and he was at the right side of the area as he struggled to find the power in a shot that was blocked by Stefan Marinovic.

It looked as though it would only be a matter of time before Ireland broke through, but the guests took a surprise lead on the half hour mark.

Brady and right-full O'Connor were drawn inside as New Zealand fashioned the opportunity for the raiding left back Liberato Cacace to cross for Callum McCowatt to slot past Kieran O'Hara.

Ireland had switched off, but the lull was temporary. The extent to which the hosts were on top was evidenced by the frequency with which left back Williams got into the New Zealand box in general play.

However, his equalising goal came from a corner forced by Maguire's endeavour with Brady's teaser dispatched by the head of the Blackburn player.

Williams is rated by McCarthy and didn't make it to the hour mark in this game, which is possibly a compliment with Monday in mind.

He had taken a hand in Ireland's lead goal by that point, helping to dispossess McCowatt in tandem with Parrott before the teenager rolled the ball to Maguire who found the top corner with a superb right footer.

McCarthy began to ring the changes with the withdrawal of Byrne and Parrott raising questions about what this meant for their chances of making the bench for Monday.

Gut feeling

Byrne is worthy of a slot in the 23 and Parrott's promise was evident but the gut feeling lingers that McCarthy is unlikely to turn to either in an emergency.

Conor Hourihane was introduced for Browne, and that head to head might be of more significance.

Robinson was the liveliest sub, clearly determined to erase the memory of a poor showing in Georgia that cost him a role against the Swiss.

The Sheffield United striker could have scored a couple, but was overjoyed to register with his head following a superb O'Connor cross.

Now it's onto the real stuff.

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