Doyle goal against Costa Rica seen as sign of things to come

O’Neill sets sights on readying players for Portugal rather than victories in the short term

At some point before Ireland's unexpectedly robust encounter with Costa Rica on Friday evening, Roy Keane casually asked Kevin Doyle when he had last scored for Ireland. Whether it was polite chit-chat on the platform at Penn station while the squad waited for their train to arrive or whether Keane was sharpening Doyle's focus hardly matters.

Martin O'Neill overheard the exchange and was surprised to hear that it was back in September 2012, when Ireland played in Oman. Before half-time in Philadelphia, the statistic was erased as Doyle guided a bullet header to the net, marking an end to a drought for a ferociously hardworking player.

Doyle, understandably, downplayed the goal: it is not as if he won the lottery. Goals are his bread and butter.

“It was good to get the goal, but I would have liked to have won the game,” he said.


"It was a great ball in by Marc Wilson; he looked up and saw me make a run and put a great ball in. I just tried to put as much power and contact on it as possible and it flew in.

“We played well in the first half but in the second half we were not as good and they played some good stuff. We had chances to win the game.”

For Martin O’Neill, the significance of the goal lay deeper than Doyle’s international stats sheet. All goal scorers go through cold seasons. Doyle has had a difficult few seasons and is unclear as to whether his loan spell to Premier League-bound Queens Park Rangers will be made permanent or whether he will report back to Wolves for pre-season training. But O’Neill is convinced Doyle can recapture his scoring touch.

Finding the way back

“I said to Kevin, here, it’s finding your way back, really it’s finding your way back,” he said.

“He has to ask himself what has happened in the last couple of years – whether it’s sometimes you don’t score the goals and feel as if that’s your major job, and confidence is affected and then you start to drop down a couple of divisions.

“And, of course, relegation with Wolves at times doesn’t help anybody, but he has a bit of rejuvenation going to Queens Park Rangers helping them get into the Premiership (sic). But that’s where he has got to aim to try and get back to: to the player he was a couple of years ago.

“There shouldn’t be any reason for him not to be able to do that . . . in fact, it was confidence and confidence was low. Tonight, I thought he did really fine for us, you know he chased the one down in the corner eventually to get us the goal and that was great for his confidence.

“I think like most players at this minute, especially if you have done something half decent in the big league, you want to get back to that and he will have to help himself to do that.”

Doyle was also central to the other main talking point of Friday night's game, when he came away from an aeriel challenge with Giancarlo González with a bad gash. Richie Keogh described the challenge as "disgusting" afterwards and the sight of blood pouring from Doyle's head was hard to reconcile with a friendly. Beforehand, Robbie Keane had spoken with Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz and advised him to "be smart." "We've seen a few bad injuries in friendly games. Nobody wants to see a player miss the World Cup. "

The advice went unheeded and Doyle’s exchanges with Gonzalez were uncompromising from the outset.

“They are going to a World Cup and their players will want to play, probably fighting for places in the team,” Doyle said. “It was quite warm out there and there was an edge to it. Even though it was a friendly, he should have been sent off. The blood was coming out of me. He seemed to have a problem with something. Thankfully, the ref dealt with him.

“I think he felt aggrieved from a challenge I had made a bit earlier on. He had a couple of gos at trying to get me back. And he made enough contact that time.”

Devil in the detail

But for a missed Robbie Keane penalty, Ireland would probably have recorded a win in Philadelphia. However, O’Neill remains unperturbed by the fact that his team have yet to slip into a winning habit. These games have been about details and bringing players through.

Shane Duffy’s debut was solid. O’Neill admitted he was pleased by what he saw and immediately set out a few tasks for the new man.

“Strong in the air. I said to him ‘Now if you want to go and become a big player, you’ve got to get yourself moving and doing lots of footwork – lots and lots of footwork now’ and I’m sure that’s something he’ll have to do at club level.”

Whether Duffy gets a chance to shine against Cristiano Ronaldo in New York tomorrow evening remains to be seen. O’Neill hinted that he would restore several players rested and inferred again that everything he was doing here was with an eye to the autumn rather than seeking an immediate result.

"We'll get ourselves back ready for Portugal. To me, it really has been an enlightening trip, which I expected it to be really. And if this is the sort of preparation, really, for what you would call big games, as I said to you before, I wish I could guarantee us winning September, October, November. But this is the road that I have chosen to go down and to me, this is the way I want to prepare."

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times