Judge decrees that O’Shea bows out on a winning note
Terrific performance from Rice in midfield earns high praise from manager O’Neill
The Republic of Ireland’s Graham Burke celebrates his goal with Darragh Lennihan at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo
Republic of Ireland 2 USA 1
If crowds adapted mainstream music to deliver measured reviews they might have been singing “buoyed by the USA” at the end of this one.
Winning a game was becoming just a little overdue for Martin O’Neill and his men before Saturday night but there was more grounds here for relief than genuine rejoicing as the final whistle sounded and the squad prepared to go their separate ways for the summer.
Unless, that is of course, you were Graham Burke, who became the first League of Ireland player since Ray Treacy 40 years ago to score for Ireland, or Alan Judge who, we hope, finally drew a line under the terrible battle he has endured with injury these past couple of years with his late winner.
The 29-year-old and his family can certainly be forgiven for celebrating it as though it mattered more than victory over the USA in a friendly that had been heavily sold as being primarily a send-off for John O’Shea.
The crowd, in the end, did not quite match the association’s billing of the occasion but the Waterfordman still got a decent one and joked afterwards about being shocked that he had not won the Man of the Match award.
That had gone to Declan Rice the young West Ham defender/midfielder whose performance here O’Neill reflected on at some length afterwards as the major positive of the night.
“He was outstanding, in every aspect, in every phase,” observed the manager. “Getting close to players, trying to dispossess players when the opposition had the ball. His use of the ball was excellent, really excellent; epitomised by that pass that he made [to James McClean who, in turn inadvertently teed up Judge for his goal].
“He’s played some delightful balls. Got it under control quite quickly, played lovely balls, 10 yard passes, 15 yard passes, 20 yard passes to people. I couldn’t speak more highly of him, he was outstanding.”
The games against Wales and Denmark in the autumn will be rather different to this, a match that started tamely and only seemed to gain a bit of intensity as the night slipped by and Ireland started to show, after equalising, much more determination to push on and win it than their opponents.
Having emerged as the real success story of the night in the manager’s eyes, however, the London-born teenager looks a good bet to play some part in Ireland’s forthcoming competitive encounters, even if, O’Neill acknowledged, it still cannot be taken as a complete formality as this stage.
“The praise I’ve given him tonight both here and in the dressing room was not so that he would don the shirt in September time. That wasn’t my thinking; it was just because he was so excellent tonight. Until he’s actually played competitive football for us at senior level, though, you can never say anything is across the line. But I do think he genuinely wants to play for us.”
In the nearby mixed zone, Rice was again, fairly bluntly insisting that that is the case.
“It’s all a load of crap to be honest, I don’t read too much about it [the will he, won’t he, England versus Ireland debate]. It’s a question that keeps on being asked but I’m just focused on playing and enjoying my football. There are two games in September [the first of which, in Cardiff on September 6th, will effectively lay the matter to rest] and I’m looking forward to them.”
How many of the seven others who have made senior debuts since March might feature is another thing but O’Neill he was happy to have had the opportunity to give them their chances.
The initial change of formation here – to three at the back with James McClean and Seamus Coleman either side and Burke playing at the attacking end of a diamond, behind Jon Walters was, he insisted, intended to allow Burke maximise his and the 24-year-old did as much as could have been reasonably expected to take advantage.
Much, though, is likely to depend on how his club career develops and there was talk that the presence of Preston’s Peter Ridsdale at the game might lead to openings on that front.
Matt Doherty, meanwhile, seems capable of playing a bigger part in things although having become settled into his preferred right back at Wolves may not help his cause here given how secure Coleman in that particular spot.
Derrick Williams has shown promise too at left back and his Blackburn team -mate Darragh Lenihan certainly did himself no harm on Saturday with a shot of his having handed Burke his goal on a plate and a later headed effort disallowed for offside.
Generating more goals remains the greatest long-term concern and so Scott Hogan, Sean Maguire and Callum Robinson all seem certain to get further look-ins. Rice may well have done enough to catapult himself into the holding midfield but the defence is likely to have a more familiar look about in when the team returns in the autumn.
Certainly the defending, or what passed for it, around Bobby Wood’s close range conversion of a set piece on the stroke of half-time suggested that, even against an American side in a greater state of transition than Ireland, O’Neill’s men are still prone to coming up short on the basics at times.
Scoring the odd one extra may make no difference if that is not sorted out by the time potent Denmark come calling again.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Doyle (Bradford City); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), O’Shea (Sunderland), Long (Burnley), McClean (West Brom); Hendrick (Burnley), Rice (West Ham), Burke (Shamrock Rovers), O’Dowda (Bristol City); Walters (Burnley). Subs: Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers) for O’Shea (34 mins), Horgan (Preston) for Burke (58 mins), Stevens (Sheffield United) for Duffy (77 mins), Arther (Bournemouth) for Hendrick (82 mins), Judge (Brentford) for O’Dowda (88 mins).
USA: Hamid (Midtjylland); Yedlin (Newcastle United), Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Miazga (Chelsea), Villafana (Santos Laguna); Trapp (Columbus Crew); Weah (PSG), Adams (NY Red Bulls), McKennie (Schalke 04), Rubin (Club Tijuana); Wood (Hamburg). Subs: Parker (NY Red Bulls) for Carter-Vickers (61 mins), Moore (Levante) for Yedlin and Sargent (Werder Bremen) for Wood (69 mins), De La Torre (Fulham) for Rublin (77 mins), Corona (Club America) for McKennie (81 mins).
Referee: A Dallas (Scotland).