ALL THINGS IRELAND: September 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015



It was a case of job done for Ireland in north-west London today as they made light work of Romania’s challenge, seeing off their Pool D opponents 44-10 in front of a Rugby World Cup record 89,267 crowd at Wembley.
Joe Schmidt’s team racked up six tries, with Keith Earls (2), Tommy Bowe (2), Rob Kearney, who was later forced off injured, and Chris Henry all crossing the whitewash.
Ian Madigan slotted all of Ireland’s kicked points with an assured display from the out-half.
The Romanians gave their all, but were vastly the inferior side, and rarely threatened Ireland in offence.
They managed a penalty at goal in the early stages through Valentin Calafeteanu and eventually crashed over for a try from lock Ovidiu Tonita late on, which Florin Vlaicu converted.
Ireland were composed throughout and looked a very complete side. Much bigger challenges lie ahead for them in the coming weeks, but the brains trust will be more than than happy with this outing, as they prepare to clash with Italy at the Olympic Stadium next Sunday.
Ireland dominated possession early on as they crossed the field looking for a way to crack open the Romanian defence, but the minnows held firm for the opening ten minutes, with Madigan and Calafeteanu trading penalties to keep the scores level.
Ireland’s first moment of real genius came shortly after, with Earls bursting through the centre, before offloading to Richardt Strauss who in turn fed Simon Zebo out wide, who chipped ahead before rounding Adrian Apostol, to collect the ball before touching down.
It was sensational skill from the Munster man, but the effort was ruled out for a boot in touch as he collected the ball.
As a result, Ireland again looked to the boot of Madigan to push themselves ahead, with another penalty on goal from the No 10 just before the end of the first quarter.
Ireland were beginning to crank up the gears and a sweeping left to right move saw Ulster’s Bowe collect and finish past Ionut Botezatu in the tightest of spaces in the corner.
Madigan curled in from from the left touchline to add the extras.
There was no let up from Ireland as Zebo joined the line at outside centre to whip a pass out to Earls on the left, who burnt two defenders before dotting down over the whitewash.
Madigan failed to add the extra two as he pulled his effort to the left this time.
That was to be the last score of the half as Romania scrambled brilliantly in defence for the last ten minutes, mostly in their own 22, to repel Ireland, and get to the interval to regroup.
The halftime respite didn’t appear to have the required effect on the Romanians though, as Ireland picked up where they left off and pounded the Oaks’ 22.

Within minutes they had a third try. Earls got on the end of a lovely dinked grubber from Eoin Reddan in behind the defence to touch down for his second of the game, becoming Ireland’s joint all-time World Cup top try-scorer alongside Brian O’Driscoll on seven.
Madigan converted to push Ireland well clear at 25-3.
With just over half an hour to go, Schmidt then decided to freshen things up, bringing in Rob Kearney for Earls, with the former slotting in at fullback and Zebo moving to the wing.
Cian Healy’s afternoon fitness session came to end soon after as he made way for his Leinster colleague Jack McGrath; Healy had a relatively quiet afternoon, making one big carry in the loose and performing his loosehead duties according to script.
With no injuries incurred, and 54 minutes of game time under the belt, it was a very satisfactory outing for the Clontarf man.
The third quarter followed a repeated pattern of Ireland putting several phases together, before coughing up the ball in the red zone for Romania to clear, before Ireland surged forward again.
Paddy Jackson was introduced at out-half with 20 minutes left, with Madigan slotting in at 12, Darren Cave moving to second centre, and Payne being called ashore.
In the pack, the two Seans - Cronin and O’Brien - were also introduced for Strauss and Jamie Heaslip, as Schmidt sought to get some more go-forward ball for to claim a fourth try and bag the bonus point.
That strategy worked. Within minutes Ireland had won a scrum deep in the Romania half, spread wide right off first phase and Bowe crossed for his second of the day.
Madigan, looking assured from the boot all day, added the conversion. Csaba Gal’s sin binning, for taking out Jackson in the air moments earlier, helping Ireland to dominate and really put the game to bed.
It was a case of whatever you can do, I can do better, for the wingers, with Earls and Bowe, both on two tries for the day, and both delivering very accomplished performances.
Things were only to get worse for Romania as Kearney claimed the third Rugby World Cup try of his career, as Cave, Madigan and Zebo interchanged wide left before the fullback finished off the intricate move. It was more of the same for Madigan as Ireland moved to a commanding 37-3 scoreline.
Tadhg Furlong, Paul O’Connell and Conor Murray were also introduced in the final quarter as Ireland emptied the bench.
And the Irish pack then got the chance to flex their attacking muscles, with Henry touching down off the back off an Ireland maul from a lineout.
It was just reward for a superb display from the Ulster flanker, who created go-forward ball all day as well as providing key link play at the breakdown. Madigan held on to place-kicking duties, despite Jackson’s prescence on the pitch, and slotted another for 44-3.
But Romania, having huffed and puffed with little joy for the almost entirety of the match, finally got the try that their pack deserved. Off the back of a lineout Tonita got his paws on the ball and smashed through a poor tackle by Jackson to crash over under the sticks. Vlaicu converted to diminish the damage.
Ireland had one more go at the line, but Bowe was penalised for holding on as he opted to go it alone in the 22 rather than using the support outside him.
Five points for Schmidt’s team from this one. Top of the pool after two matches. So far, so good, for the Six Nations champions.
Man of the match: Keith Earls.


Sunday, September 20, 2015



Ireland played the role of lean, green machine for 40 minutes and finished with enough of a flourish to put up an impressive total on the scoreboard as they beat Canada 50-7 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in their opening Rugby World Cup Pool D clash.
Tries by Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson, Jonathan Sexton, Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney and Jared Payne and eight successful kicks at goal saw Ireland rack up a half-century of points.
Canada deservedly got a try of their own, through star winger DT Van Der Merwe, having improved throughout the match.
Canada actually had the first chance of the match but scrum-half Gordon McCrorie missed a penalty from long range.
Ireland’s class then began to show soon enough, a powerful carry by flanker O’Brien and a Sexton kick to touch on the bounce in the corner, putting them on the front foot.
Irish pressure resulted in a penalty being awarded to them yards from the Canadian line. Captain O’Connell sensibly pointed towards the posts and Sexton knocked the kick over to set the scoreboard in motion.
That momentum was maintained and Ireland were soon back in the Canadian 22.
The balance then shifted decisively for ten minutes when Canadian captain Jamie Cudmore, the pantomime villain for the day, was then sent to the line for playing the ball on the ground from an offside position. Immediately after, a lineout maul resulted in O’Brien getting Ireland’s first try of RWC 2015.
The backline almost produced Ireland’s next five-pointer, a smart move which saw Rob Kearney taking the ball at first receiver and Conor Murray looping around his centres to give Keith Earls a bit of room. That move was held up just short, but a strong Irish scrum followed and Henderson was able to barge over with relative ease soon after.
A superb kick to touch ‘against the grain’ by Sexton put Canada back within yards of their own line within minutes.
This time, Sexton himself took advantage, a smart exchange of passes between himself and O’Brien in midfield putting him clear and he had just enough pace to beat the cover and dive over in the corner. The Leinster man had landed his first two shots but the touchline conversion proved beyond him this time.
Cudmore returned at that point with Canada having conceded 19 points in his absence.
The pick of Ireland’s tries came next. The ball was moved smartly from one wing to the other and back again, and with Ireland holding their depth and timing their passes well, Dave Kearney was able to zip in untouched with two men outside him. Sexton converted again.
Canada finished the half with a bit of a flourish as out-half Nathan Hiaryama began to exert a measure of influence from out-half. South African-born winger DTH Van Der Merwe did eventually cross the whitewash but play was called back for Hirayama’s tipped pass going forward and the try was cancelled.

It had been a near-perfect 40 minutes to start Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign but Ireland were unable to sustain the momentum early in the second half.
Canada were given a huge boost when O’Connell was shown a yellow for offside and the game then meandered along then for a period, albeit with Canada looking increasingly more dangerous when moving the ball wide.
Ireland gradually ground them down though, showing a touch of class here and there as they did so. A lovely break by Luke Fitzgerald, slicing past two tacklers, brought Ireland within five of the line again only for Rory Best to be shoved into touch a couple of feet from the line a few plays later.
Henderson stole the lineout only for Earls to fluff his lines, dropping a simple ball with a huge overlap to his right.
With 55 minutes gone, Sexton was replaced by Ian Madigan and a brand new front-row consisting of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Nathan White soon followed him into the fray with Chris Henry and Eoin Reddan not far behind.
Cian Healy made his long awaited return to action
But Canada continued to have the better of it and Van Der Merwe crossed the line for a second time only for play to be brought back for offside – correctly in this case.
Normal service resumed for most of the remainder of the half. Ireland got their first try of the period when a powerful driving maul gave Payne a chance to run hard at the Canadian defence inside the 22. He was just stopped short but Cronin was on hand to cover the last yard and score under the posts, and Madigan was able to convert.
Payne was badly caught out in the next play, his poorly conceived chip going straight into the arms of Van Der Merwe, who had the gas to beat the cover and score out wide. Hirayama was able to convert to give Canada a well-deserved seven points.
Canada threatened again as the clock wound on, pinning Ireland inside their own 22, but a quick breakout attack reached Earls and he was able to stretch clear of most of the cover, draw the rest and release a lovely pass inside to Rob Kearney for Ireland’s sixth.
Madigan created the seventh, ripping through a narrow gap in midfield and releasing Payne who took a nice line and cantered over, again under the posts. Madigan converted to bring up Ireland’s half-century.
Overall, a solid performance with key men like O’Connell, O’Brien and Sexton showing signs that they are coming to the boil. However, the period after half-time, and the concession of a try and several other chances which Canada were unable to take, will give Schmidt and co plenty to work over the next couple of weeks.
©Rte Sport

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Republic of Ireland 1 Georgia 0 

Martin O’Neill’s side did just about enough here to sustain their hopes of a place at next summer’s European Championships although the cream of the continent’s game may look at the game and feel that Ireland’s performance makes a pretty poor case for having expanded the tournament.
Jon Walters wins it for Ireland
The goal that won it, to be fair, was a little bit special with Jeff Hendrick doing extraordinarily well to tee up Jon Walters for his seventh international goal and there might well have been another with Shane Long passing up a good chance before James McClean forced a fine save but it mattered little really. But for extended stretches, predominantly in the first half, the home side again looked average.
Ultimately, the points were secured and thanks to the result in Glasgow, a win in Warsaw will now be enough to guarantee Ireland a play-off spot with favourable results before having the potential to make that trip to Poland even more rewarding.
 How much confidence this would generate that Ireland can raise their game against the Germans or Poles, though, is open to question.
For this, a game that simply had to be won, O’Neill made just one change to the side that started in Gibraltar, bringing back Seamus Coleman for Cyrus Christie, but by half-time he was looking to freshen it up further with Long on for Robbie Keane when a couple of others might have considered themselves fortunate to get a second chance.
The half had been another of those when Irish supporters must have been tempted to give up hope that their side might ever completely dominate a game against supposedly weaker opponents. The locals played in fits and starts but were matched for possession and passing by a Georgia side whose brightest attacking midfielders, Valeri Kazaishvili and Tornike Okriashvili, ran at defenders with at least as much purpose as any of their Irish counterparts could muster.
Levan Mchedlidze was about their brightest star against Scotland but he will not want to remember the way he scuffed his shot when clear through on Shay Given early on, although the most that was actually required of the goalkeeper was a quick bit of footwork and a cool pass under pressure after he initially lost control of a straight-forward back pass.
The shot wasn’t Georgia’s only chance; Okriashvili, in particular, showed a capacity to cause the Irish central defenders problems, but it was to prove their best and it would have interesting to see how the home side might have coped with having to come from behind.
As it was, their concern remained taking the lead and they made terribly heavy weather of that. Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady both tended to be involved in Ireland’s better moves and each had a hand in the neat build-up to a chance that Keane fired over after chesting down just seven minutes in. But it was another half an hour before somebody produced a shot that seriously tested Nukri Revishvili, with Coleman taking a touch to control a partially cleared Hoolahan cross before letting fly at the top right corner.
There was one particularly impressive spell around then when Glenn Whelan seemed to take it upon himself to start driving the team forward through the middle but it didn’t last. When briefly the visitors struggled hopelessly to clear the ball from their own area it seemed to suggest a potentially fatal weakness that would cost them later, the problem being that the clumsy efforts of the Irish to punish them as the ball bobbled around, prompted much the same thought about the hosts.
In the end, having fallen back far too often on long balls thumped in the direction of Walters when nothing else worked, Ireland went in for the break level, which was certainly as much as they deserved.
The improvement after it eventually led to the goal and while the improvement was not dramatic or immediate,there was a sense that Ireland had now acquired some urgency and were using it to build some momentum. A latecomer would, at least, have guessed at this stage which side was at home and hoping to go to the European Championships.
There was a downside. Both Whelan and s McClean picked up pointless bookings that will keep them out of the Germany game but at least the Georgians started to look like they were feeling the heat.
Still it took a moment of individual brilliance to create a goal that had more than a hint of Ireland’s in Gelsenkirchen about it. Hendrick, as he had done that night, produced a moment of magic to, on this occasion, weave his way past three defenders before squaring the ball for Walters who got between two players to turn it home from a yard or two out.
Long really should have made it two eight minutes later when Whelan passed up the opportunity to run on and shoot, preferring instead to lay the ball off to McClean who did well with his cross, but the striker tried to flick home and missed the ball completely. McClean then struck a fierce shot that Revishvili saved well.
The Irish started to cruise, a dangerous game in the circumstances against a team that was better than we had hoped, but their cause was helped by a hamstring injury to Mchedlidze that forced the striker off after the Kakhaber Tskaridze has used all his substitutions.
The final minutes slipped by until Ireland had, once again, done what they needed to but, as ever, not in the way they had hoped.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Stoke City); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (Sunderland), Clark (Aston Villa), Brady (Norwich City); McCarthy (Everton), Whelan (Stoke City), Hoolahan (Norwich City), Hendrick (Derby County); Walters (Stoke City), Keane (LA Galaxy).
Subs: Long (Southampton) for Keane (half-time), McClean (West Brom) for Hoolahan (75 mins).

GEORGIA: Revishvili; Lobjanidze, Kvirkvelia, Amisulashvili, Khizanishvili; Kashia, Kankava; Kazaishvili, Okriashvili, Navalovsky; Mchedlidze.
Subs: Papunashvili for Kazaishvili (64 mins), Tsintsadze for Kashia (76 mins), Kenia for Khizanishvili (81 mins).

Referee: István Vad (Hungary).

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Gibraltar 0-4 Republic of Ireland
A double from captain Robbie Keane and goals from Cyrus Christie and Shane Long helped Ireland to a workmanlike 4-0 win over Gibraltar in Faro to lift Martin O’Neill’s side to third place in Group D in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Christie’s wonderful solo strike gave the Boys in Green a 1-0 half-time advantage that accurately reflected a lack of penetration despite overwhelming dominance of possession.
Ageless Robbie Keane does it again

A two-goal blitz from Keane, a tap-in and penalty, shortly after half-time put the result firmly beyond doubt, but Ireland rarely found the rhythm they exuded when hammering the Iberian minnows 7-0 at the Aviva Stadium last October, until substitute Long’s late header made it four.
Scotland’s shock 1-0 defeat in Georgia earlier in the night would have helped to concentrate Ireland’s mind on the task at hand, with third place in the group up for grabs.
They started brightly, in front of 5,393 at Gibraltar’s ‘home’ venue, with Wes Hoolahan playing his customary conductor’s role and combining well with Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady down the left.
Brady had a free-kick tipped over by Gibraltar goalkeeper Jordan Perez after seven minutes before Ciaran Clark rattled the crossbar with an unmarked header from a corner in the tenth minute.
Ireland did have the ball in the net two minutes later as Walters swept Keane’s clever, dinked cross home with a diving header but the Stoke man, who was uncharacteristically ineffective throughout the opening period, had strayed offside.
Captain Keane hit the side-netting after a lovely through ball from Hoolahan but Ireland were starting to look one-dimensional, with midfield very congested and no support for Christie down the right flank.
In the 27th minute, Derby defender Christie produced a bit of magic, however, cutting in from the touchline to beat two defenders and curl the ball into the far corner of the net with the outside of his right foot.
Walters immediately went close from long-range but the floodgates failed to open and Gibraltar even went close to an equaliser ten minutes before the break, former Portsmouth midfielder Paul Walker forcing Shay Given into a diving save.
Despite forcing a succession of corners, eight in the first half altogether, Ireland were forced to settle for a one-nil lead at the break but the game changed dramatically after the restart as Keane scored twice in two minutes.
from Brady to prevent Anthony Bardon from getting the underdogs on the scoresheet.
O’Neill introduced Stephen Quinn, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady for Keane, McCarthy and Hoolahan in a bid to refresh Ireland’s flagging momentum, and Southampton striker Long quickly made his mark on the game.
In the 79th minute, the excellent Christie combined well with clubmate Hendrick, who put a perfect chipped cross onto the penalty spot for Long to head past Perez.
McGeady shot wide wastefully when Long was free outside him and Walters scuffed a golden chance wide but Ireland finished out the game out comfortably for a 4-0 win.
Not exactly vintage football from O’Neill’s men but a satisfying result on a night when qualification for France 2016 suddenly seems much less far-fetched.
Gibraltar: Jordan Perez, Jean Carlos Garcia, Erin Barnett, Roy Chipolina (c), Joseph Chipolina, John Sergeant (85), Liam Walker, Anthony Bardon, Kyle Casciaro (Jake Gosling 61), Lee Casciaro, John Paul Duarte (Michael Yome 74).
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given, Cyrus Christie, John O’Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy (Stephen Quinn 70), Jeff Hendrick,  Jon Walters, Wes Hoolahan (Aiden McGeady 77), Robbie Keane (c) (Shane Long 70).