Brennan steals show in fine win

 

Ireland under-23 2 Slovakia under-23 0: With Christmas lurking, English and Scottish scouts descended on Dublin last night for a spot of window-shopping.

Interested parties were busy preparing festive wish-lists but whether they saw enough to part with the readies remains to be seen.

Representatives from Crystal Palace were in town to size up strikers Dave Mooney, Denis Behan and Conor Samonn. 

Dundee United manager Craig Levein was here, too, to look at Mooney, the league's leading scorer, while Leeds, Colchester and Brighton officials were less forthcoming about their targets.

Samonn remained benched until the 79th minute, but both Mooney and Behan did enough from the start to merit a second look. 

But it was Derry City's Killian Brennan who stole the show as Pat Fenlon's team opened their Challenge Trophy account with a convincing victory.

Thrown together in recent days, you'd be forgiven for expecting a disjointed end-of-season display from jaded players.  But the locals played with cohesion and purpose throughout, compiling an array of inventive drives.

The fact Fenlon's men had the contest boxed off at half-time was not surprising such was the swagger with which they opened. 

His selection consisted solely of League of Ireland players but, owing to the time in possession that this grade affords, their cut was a far cry from typical league fare.

Slick ball was repeatedly worked short and direct and this ensured an uncomfortable night for the off-pace visitors.

Paul Keegan and Stephen Rice proved catalyst in the centre. Much of Ireland's best work was generated through the pair with wingers John Paul Kelly and Brennan benefiting most. 

Brennan's deadball work was superb and his 26th minute cross to the back post allowed the unmarked Gavin Peers head home the opener.

Slovakia were pinned deep thereafter and struggled to generate momentum.  Captain Jan Zapotoka was willing, but those around him rarely were. 

Ireland seized on this and turned the screw after the half hour. Rice's effort crashed off the bar but Brennan drilled the rebound at the goalkeeper who carried the ball over the line.

That lead should have been extended after the break but Hrosso pulled off stunning saves to deny Mooney and Conor Kenna from close range while Keegan battered the bar at the death.

Fenlon's men meet Northern Ireland next spring before closing out the group against Belgium.  Italy, England, Wales and Finland compete in the other group with the two table toppers meeting in the final in 18 months time.

Rep of Ireland:  Murphy (Shamrock Rovers); O'Brien (Shamrock Rovers), Peers (Sligo Rovers), Kenna (UCD), Powell (Bohemians); Kelly (Bohemians), Keegan (Drogheda), Rice (Shamrock Rovers), Brennan (Derry City); Mooney (Longford Town), Behan (Cork City).  Subs:  Rowe (Shamrock Rovers) for Behan (64), O'Donnell (Bohemians) for Rice (70), Samonn (UCD) for Mooney (79), Kavanagh (Bray Wanderers) for Kelly (90).

Slovakia:  Hrosso; Cogley, Janokis, Gallo, Furman; Lesko, Shiek, Zapotoka, Juhar; Duris, Khzma.  Subs:  Lacny for Furman (half-time), Katona for Khzma (63), Toth for Lacny, Gabris for Duris (88).

Referee: R Winter (Dublin)