Winning is all that truly matters in international football

Ultimately football is about accumulating three points. That is precisely what the Republic of Ireland achieved in Croke Park on Wednesday evening.

Winning is what truly matters in the international game, and though Ireland weren’t too polished the spoils were bagged. It was enough to ensure Giovanni Trapattoni cut a contented figure. Safe and solid, but lacking subtlety was the verdict of the masses spilling out into a crisp Drumcondra night.

With Bulgaria drawing in Tbilisi the victory was afforded deep significance, ensuring Ireland are in charge of their own destiny. The week commenced with a mild surprise as

even a decorated and exalted manager can opt to gamble.

Darren Gibson was afforded a first competitive start in the centre of the park for a contest dripping with importance. Considering Ireland’s recent history with Cyprus is laced with cautionary tales, astonishment greeted the Italian’s team line up when unfurled at Malahide on Tuesday.

The previous Thursday Gibson scampered around Dalymount Park quenching Nottingham Forest fires in an interesting friendly fixture. In Trapattoni’s opinion it was a sufficient showing to earn a berth in a high stakes World Cup qualifier.

Was there a hint of justification in the Italian’s smile five minutes in when Robbie Keane spilled away with usual gusto after a goal that was all about Damien Duff’s skill? By that stage Gibson confirmed the suspicion that he can disturb opponents’ rhythm with canny positional sense. Gibson settled impressively in the middle where Glenn Whelan was also relevant to the evening’s narrative, but as the contest evolved Ireland’s central duo dropped far too deep. Inevitably Cyprus accepted the invitation to attack.

Then the Cypriots were met by the substantial barrier of Richard Dunne, who contributed a smashing defensive display. Adept when Cyprus opted for the aerial deliveries and equally sharp on the deck, Dunne was immense.

A notable donation was made by Kevin Doyle at the opposite end of the pitch. Doyle’s earnestness was a salient feature in an Irish first-half display that, while sprinkled with clever moments, was also one where worry was never far away. Occasionally Cyprus wove pretty patterns around the Irish area, but Dunne was resolute. It was a similar story in the third quarter.

Out wide Ireland did threaten when the ball was moved briskly. Duff zipped around with the dash of yore, while Aidan McGeady was industrious too, probing throughout. Unfortunately Ireland suffered during a sustained spell of Cypriot second-half pressure, but Dunne’s effectiveness never wavered. It was one of principal reasons why the locals survived.

Despite the success issues linger. Why is Andy Reid, such a delightful distributor, being ignored? Is it wise to opt for a safety first approach of protecting a slender lead? Why are substitutes not being used? Surely Stephen Hunt would have added energy and enthusiasm for a spin towards the end? How these problems are sorted or rectified will be critical.

With Shay Given, Dunne, Duff, and Doyle capable there is cause for optimism. The perfectionist lurking within Trapattoni will know that a bit more sheen is needed to appease sporting purists.

Michael’s back in the big time

The whistle had barely left referee Vinny Judge’s lips when the invasion commenced. They barrelled onto the Tuam Stadium turf from all corners of the ground with relief and delight sweeping them joyously along. St Michaels’ revival is underway, and the latest trinket marked a commendable achievement. For nigh on two decades Michael’s have sought to recapture senior status. The mission has finally been completed.

It was a win that owed everything to all the mornings, afternoons, and evenings spent at the Westside and in Dangan during the past 15 years. That Pat Regan, John Ruane, and Peter Curran were with them every step of the way merely added to the sense of accomplishment.

It was they who provided the taxing toil throughout tough times, informing the players that there was the possibility of brighter days. Their hunch has been proven correct.


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