Ireland withstand frustrating evening to see off Hungary and maintain winning streak

Sinead Farrelly with instant impact off the bench as own goal preserves Ireland’s 100 per cent Nations League record

Nations League: Republic of Ireland 1 Hungary 0

The Republic of Ireland, under the interim watch of Eileen Gleeson has become a team that has forgotten how to draw, never mind lose.

Sinead Farrelly continues to make up for lost time in a green shirt. The Gotham creator, fresh from capturing an NWSL title with the New Jersey outfit, tip-toed into this sloppy game on 64 minutes.

Gleeson poured a ream of instructions into her ear before the sign went up. But all the night needed was Farrelly to be her usual, inventive self.

Sure enough, seconds passed before a rapid one-two with Heather Payne upped a lethargic tempo and invited the Everton winger to whip a cross. Hungary goalkeeper Réka Szocs fumbled the ball before Henrietta Csiszár, the visiting skipper, slid into the danger zone to score an own goal.


Granted, Denise O’Sullivan was breathing down her neck.

Finally, the 6,752 in attendance were rewarded for braving the December cold.

Farrelly did well to see out the contest after being upended by Lila Turányi. Dutch referee Shona Shukrula saw a legitimate challenge and awarded a corner, no more. The 34-year-old dusted herself off and returned.

Systems, formations and tactics be damned. Before their calamitous winner, the best Irish chances fell to Caitlin Hayes flinging her body towards a Megan Connolly corner and O’Sullivan leaping her own height to connect with Izzy Atkinson’s delivery.

Sometimes the agricultural trumps the technical. Especially with the Hungarians narrowing options and handing out some bruising tackles.

The contest began as an in-your-face approach from Ireland. Effectively starting with a 3-4-2-1 formation, where attacking midfielders Katie McCabe and O’Sullivan had Hungary on the back foot. Proceedings ended with enough direct football to secure Ireland’s fifth Nations League win from five.

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This full court press should have created space for Payne and Atkinson to raid either flank. In theory. With plenty of midfielders in Gleeson’s squad, Connolly returned to her World Cup role as one of three centre halves as Tyler Toland and Ruesha Littlejohn provided a deep-sitting insurance policy.

The system was presumably devised to handle superior opposition next year but a clogged middle resulted in balls being launched down the channels for McCabe and Kyra Carusa to pursue.

The Hungarian defence duly creaked. Carusa had the first sight of goal, profiting from a sloppy back pass by Laura Kovács, only to shoot into the side netting.

Ireland struggled to control the tie as Littlejohn’s underhit pass for Hayes invited Viktória Szabó to flash a dangerous ball across Courtney Brosnan’s six-yard box.

The high press did produce a plethora of second balls. Littlejohn almost atoned with a rasping effort from distance and Payne snapped onto another to give O’Sullivan a second chance, but she shot straight at Szocs.

The best chance of the first half never materialised because Carusa hesitated, when faced by a jockeying Lila Turányi, safe in the knowledge that McCabe would overlap into space. Turányi predicted and cleared far too easily.

Ireland sprinted under the main stand at half-time while the Hungarians huddled before escaping the chill. They seemed delighted with their resistance, knowing they can pip Northern Ireland to second in Group One, and reach a promotion play-off by beting Albania on Tuesday, if Ireland draw or win in Belfast.

Gleeson changed the shape before the hour. Littlejohn and Atkinson made way, McCabe went wide left as Lucy Quinn and Jamie Finn arrived. Suddenly, Tyler Toland was on the ball, trying to pick a run in behind.

But it took Farrelly’s arrival to enhance a one-paced affair, and help to secure all three points, once again.

“Sinead is a very talented footballer,” said Payne, the player of the match, “she’s really good at combining, so it was good to combine with her in midfield and get a good cross in to the box.

“I don’t think it was our best performance, the girls know that, but in the end we’re going to build on this, starting with Northern Ireland on Tuesday and finishing the group on a high. We want to keep out standards high, next year we’ll be facing harder opposition.”

The result allows Ireland to depart a momentous 2023 in profit, having now won six, drawn two and lost five matches. One more to go, at Windsor Park of all places, next Tuesday night.

Ireland: Brosnan (Everton); Hayes (Glasgow Celtic), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Connolly (Bristol City); Payne (Everton), Toland (Blackburn Rovers), Littlejohn (London City Lionesses), Atkinson (West Ham United); O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), McCabe (Arsenal); Carusa (San Diego Wave).

Substitutions: Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City) for Atkinson, Finn (Birmingham City) for Littlejohn (both 57), Farrelly (NY/NJ Gotham) for Toland (64).

Hungary: Szocs; Kovacs, Turanyi, H Nemeth, D Nemeth; Papp, Csiszar; Zeller, Fenyvesi, Szabo; Vachter.

Substitutions: Zágor for Vachter, Pápai for Fenyvesi (both 46), Vida for Kovac (72), Sule for Csiszar, Kajan for Szabo (both 81).

Referee: Shona Shukrula (Netherlands)

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent