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Ireland escape Armenia embarrassment; heartbreak for under 21s

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Robbie Brady’s late penalty saved Ireland’s blushes against Armenia on what was a crazy last 20 minutes in the Nations League last night. Ireland had been coasting to victory, two goals up and then goals by Dashyan and Spertsyan for Armenia put Ireland under threat of relegation to League C. But Brady saved the day late with a penalty. Ken Early writes Ireland gazed into the abyss against Armenia but wrote a happy ending, of sorts. It didn’t feel like a winner was coming for Stephen Kenny’s side — it felt destined to be another embarrassment, another albatross to hang around the neck of this team.

Stephen Kenny was as confused as everybody else by Ireland’s performance. “I’m very pleased with how we played but we absolutely shot ourselves in the foot for a five-minute period,” he said. He was equal parts delighted with most of what he saw and horrified with the level of carelessness that almost saw the night ruined. Sergeant Kenny’s magical mystery tour left pundits scratching their heads, writes Mary Hannigan. “Complacency took over,” Liam Brady sighed at full-time, by now his head minced from figuring out if the future is bright or gloomy. Michael Obafemi was outstanding again and rated highest in the player ratings as Malachy Clerkin runs the rule over Ireland after their dramatic win.

Also in the Nations League, Scotland stood firm against Ukraine to win their group after a 0-0 draw and Steve Clarke’s side will now take their place in Europe’s top tier. Meanwhile, in the under 21s, it was heartbreak for Ireland against Israel as they were denied a place in the Euros after losing a penalty shoot-out. Ireland, aiming to qualify for a first ever European under-21 championships, frustrated Israel at Bloomfield Stadium as this play-off second leg finished scoreless after both normal time and extra time. Tyreik Wright, Evan Ferguson and Dawson Devoy all missing crucial spot kicks.

In today’s subscriber only piece Seán Moran writes if referees’ decisions are disrespected it’s no surprise worse follows. Recent assaults on match officials are the inevitable outcome of a long-term lack of respect in the GAA. “A few weeks ago in Kerry, an under-11 hurling match during which scores weren’t even being recorded was summarily abandoned by the referee because of persistent verbal abuse from a team official. It was taking place under the protocols of the ‘silent sideline’ initiative.” Davy Fitzgerald thinks anyone who assaults a referee should be banned from the GAA for life and it is important that referees see that they’re being backed. The new Waterford manager is looking to give the county a chance of All-Ireland glory but the Clare native not promising success but hopes to challenge within two to three years. Finally, Paul O’Donovan is back in Ireland after his latest rowing gold medal and will mix up his off-season with some cross country. The now five-time World champion was back in UCC on Monday resuming his final year in medicine.