Monday 18 February 2019

Kerr's sweet sixteens champions of Europe

GERRY McDERMOTT

IRELAND 2 ITALY 1 BRIAN KERR'S kids are Champions of Europe after an unforgettable game in Perth last night when they deservedly captured the European Under 16 Championship with a magnificent win over Italy.

Goals from Keith Foy and David McMahon ensured Ireland's first ever success in a major international soccer tournament and sparked a night of wild celebration in the Highlands.

Since his appointment 15 months ago Kerr has brought Irish youth football to previously unscaled heights and has shown that Ireland have talent to succeed at the highest level so long as the right person is steering the ship.

Roared on by the majority of the 2,498 crowd at MacDiarmid Park, Ireland battled from start to finish and showed great character and commitment to emerge from several rocky periods.

Skipper Shaun Byrne has been Ireland's `Player of the Tournament' and he led by example from the start combining surging runs forward with last ditch tackles at the back.

It was fitting that he should be the one to accept the European Under 16 Trophy from another Irishman, Des Casey, the Dundalk man who is chairman of the UEFA Youth Committee.

``It was a great feeling to be captain of the first Irish team to lift a European trophy,'' said Byrne.

``It is a marvellous achievement for us and I'm very happy for Brian, Noel and the rest of staff.''

SAME TEAM

As expected, Kerr fielded the same team that beat Denmark in the quarter-final with David McMahon returning up front in place of Kevin Grogan.

Ireland started brightly and tried to bring the game to the Italians, whose keeper Andrea Posocco looked extremely uncomfortable under the high ball.

He dropped a 13th minute cross from Brendan McGill under pressure from David McMahon but managed to regain possession before Andy Reid could pounce.

But the Italians always looked dangerous when in possession, using quick passing and movement to try and unhinge the Irish defence.

Their top scorer Samuele Dalla Bona had a great chance after 27 minutes when put through by Gaetano D'Agostino but Joe Murphy beat out his shot while a minute later D'Agostino shot wide after Dalla Bona had turned provider.

But Ireland hauled themselves back into the game with Byrne testing Posocco after 25 minutes.

With Liam Miller and Byrne starting to get on the ball in midfield Ireland eventually created an opportunity to take the lead when Brendan McGill won a free off Riccardo Pagliuchi on the edge of the box.

Left back Keith Foy took the kick and with McMahon peeling off the wall the Nottingham Forestman drilled a brilliant left-footed free-kick into the top corner of Posocco's goal.

VERY HAPPY

``I just heard the ref blow the whistle and I thought I might as well have a pop at it and it went in.

``I was very happy with it because they don't usually go in,'' said Foy, who was Ireland's `Man of the Match' on the night.

With the Italians reeling Byrne almost increased the lead on the stroke of half-time when he raced on to McMahon's knock-on, went past a defender but shot over after an unlucky bobble.

Ireland started the second half well, but the Italians drew level after 52 minutes.

Pagliuchi got free down the left and his low cross was turned home from inside the six yard box by Simone Pelanti who had raced unchallenged into the penalty area.

It was the first goal Ireland had conceded in the championships and from a defensive point of a view a poor one to lose.

``We were very disappointed to concede the goal, but one out of six games is not bad,'' said defender Jim Goodwin who along with fellow Waterford man John O'Shea was a Colossus at the back.

The next five minutes were anxious ones for the Irish as the Italians threatened to really turn it on but they they survived and then hit back with a superb reply.

Graham Barrett's through ball found Andy Reid in acres of space inside the penalty area and he pulled the ball back to David McMahon to tap home from three yards.

``It was a great ball inside from Graham Barrett.

``I don't know whether it was a shot or a pass from Andy Reid but when it came across to me I was just standing there.

``I couldn't believe my good luck and I tapped it in,'' said McMahon.

ANXIOUS MOMENTS

There were a few anxious moments after that but the solid defence that got Ireland this far stood firm and referee Michael McCurry eventually blew the final whistle to signal the start of Ireland's reign as European Champions.

The effect this result will have on Irish soccer will be enormous. For too long we have seen ourselves as inferior but thanks to Brian Kerr and Noel O'Reilly the Celtic Tiger is at last beginning to show its teeth.

IRELAND Murphy (Tranmere Rovers); Thompson (Home Farm), O'Shea (Waterford Bohemians), Goodwin (Celtic), Foy (Nottingham Forest); McGill (Rivervalley), S Byrne (West Ham United), Miller (Celtic), Barrett (Arsenal), Reid (Nottingham Forest); McMahon (Newcastle United).

ITALY Posocco (AC Milan); Zaccardo (Bologna), Lanzaro (Roma), Lazzeri (Torino), Pagliuchi (Torino); Papa (Juventus), Agazzone (AC Milan), Donati (Atalanta); Dalla Bona (Atalanta), D'Agostino (Roma). Subs: Tacchini (Brescia) for Zaccardo (41 mins), Sinigaglia (Inter Milan) for Papa (62 mins), Sculli (Juventus) for Pelanti (72 mins).

REF M McCurry (Scotland).

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