Conor Hourihane’s ace gives Ireland match point over Georgia

On a night of protests, McCarthy’s side made is two wins from two in Euro 2020 qualifiers

Ireland’s Conor Hourihane celebrate scoring a goal with Shane Duffy and Glenn Whelan during the Euro 2020 win over Georgia. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Ireland’s Conor Hourihane celebrate scoring a goal with Shane Duffy and Glenn Whelan during the Euro 2020 win over Georgia. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Ireland 1 Georgia 0

Another international day, another big game distraction. This time the talk around the ground as Mick McCarthy was off somewhere dishing out final instructions was that the board of the FAI had availed early of the opportunity to have a meeting without John Delaney in the room.

Asked if it had really happened, just 72 hours after the long time CEO ceased to be entitled to attend as of right, the association’s press office said it wasn’t even aware of a meeting which felt just a little bit like a ‘yes’.

Once again, the press corps’ talk and texting seemed to spill over into the game which was a pity this time because it was actually well worth watching. The crowd certainly seemed to enjoy it although a good portion of it was distracted by the political situation too. “Stand up for Delaney out,” rang about the place at regular intervals and so the prospect of the half-time “Make a Noise,” competition must have had the match-day entertainment crew in a bit of a sweat through the first 45 minutes.

New FAI executive vice president John Delaney was in the stands with Emma English. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
New FAI executive vice president John Delaney was in the stands with Emma English. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Happily, though, the Ireland players had remembered how to entertain – or been reminded of how to. Ireland played with energy and passion for sure, but they also passed the ball a lot. Having presumably not gone back more than a few years in the video analysis sessions as they prepared for this trip to Dublin, the Georgians can be forgiven for having occasionally looked, well, how would Steve Staunton have put it? Ah yes, of course: bamboozled.

The whole thing felt a lot like a stroll down memory lane and not just because Glenn Whelan was back, starting between Saturday’s two central midfielders at the expense of Sean Maguire with David McGoldrick on his own up front but free, it seemed, to get himself into things by wandering almost as much as he wanted.

Once again, he impressed; popping up at times beside Whelan looking to get Ireland pushing forward, playing his part in the occasional high press but always looking to run at defenders with the ball or towards the space beyond them without it.

The 31-year-old could easily have had a goal in each half with Giorgi Loria doing well to push an early shot wide early in the first then fortunate to see the striker hit the side-netting midway through the second. Those were just two of 13 Irish attempts on goal with McCarthy’s emphasis on playing a bit more ball paying immediate dividends on that front for Ireland.

Hourihane scores Ireland’s opener from a free-kick. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Hourihane scores Ireland’s opener from a free-kick. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

As it happens, only two were on target so there is still work to be done and Ireland’s goal still came from a set piece but Conor Hourihane’s performance, after a few poor ones for Martin O’Neill, was another of the night’s success stories and the quality of his curling free-kick from 25 yards may well prove to be another factor in the Corkman cementing himself into the Irish starting lineup for the duration of this campaign.

The drama of his big breakthrough was somehow enhanced by the delay that preceded it as stewards had to clear tennis balls from the portion of the pitch in front of the stadium’s south stand singing section. The timing of the protest – 33 minutes – apparently an homage to Delaney’s extra team at the 2010 World Cup suggestion.

Taking the lead, of course, has often proven fatal to Ireland’s forward momentum in previous games and the team did falter slightly during time added on at the end of the first half. Moments after Nika Kvekveskiri had let loose with a long range effort that flew a few feet over, he looked as though he was shaping up to try the same again. Instead, he sent a nicely weighted chip towards Otar Kiteishvili whose knock down teed up Valerian Gvilia for a short that Darren Randolph did very well to save. The Irish then scrambled the ball away to safety before Giorgi Kviltaia could manage a follow up effort.

The fear was that the short spell of pressure might signal a wider shift in the balance of things, especially if Ireland began to look anxious but the home side regained the upper hand in the second half and though the victory never seemed at all secure with just one goal in it, it was Ireland who continued to play the better football and, despite some Georgian chances, look the more likely to score the net goal.

Enda Stevens probably should have had one from close range while Jeff Hendrick saw his finish disallowed after straying fractionally offside and so the biggest cheer of the night’s second half was for McGoldrick as he departed to the sort of ovation that hasn’t been heard too often of late around here.

Perhaps the defining kick of the night was the very last pass when Georgia, desperately chasing a last ditch equaliser, had a shot blocked down and Whelan got on the ball on the edge of his own area. The obvious thing to do was hoof down the pitch but the Dubliner coolly picked out Hourihane with an angled pass instead and the visitors were ultimately denied the chance to regain possession and give it one last go.

Darren Randolph removes tennis balls from the field after Irish fans’ protests. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Darren Randolph removes tennis balls from the field after Irish fans’ protests. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

They had been beaten here by narrow margins more than once before and gone home entitled to feel they had been hard done but not this time. It was scarcely all one way traffic but Ireland were the better team.

The Irish supporters have left the Aviva grumbling far too often but they had good cause to be happy this time.

There are clearly tougher games to come in the months ahead but the early signs are that McCarthy and his men really do believe they are up to the challenge.

IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Keogh (Derby County), Doherty (Wolves); Brady (Burnley), Hendrick (Burnley), Whelan (Aston Villa), Hourihane (Aston Villa), McClean (Stoke City); McGoldrick (Sheffield United).

Subs: O’Brien (MIllwall) for Brady (74 mins), Doherty (Wolves) for McGoldrick (82 mins).

GEORGIA: Loria (Magdeburg); Kakabadze (Luzern), Kverkelia (Lokomotiv Moscow), Kashia (San Jose Earthquakes) Khockolava (Shaktar Donetsk); Kvekveskiri (Tobol), Kankava (Tobol); Gvilia (Gornik Zabrze), Arveladze (Korona Kielce), Kiteishvili (Sturn Graz)); Kvilitaia (Gent).

Subs: Kharabadze (Zurich) for Khocholova (65 mins), Qazaishvili (San Jose Earthquakes) for Arveladze (73 mins), Okriashvili (Krasnodar) for Kakabadze (85mins).

Referee: S Gozubuyuk (Netherlands).

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