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Doolin's young guns polish off Italy to qualify for finals

IRELAND stunned Italy in yesterday's deciding UEFA qualifier to book their place at the European Championships in July.

Knowing only victory would suffice against the group leaders to qualify for the finals in Romania, Paul Doolin's side raced into a first-half lead through Conor Murphy, which was added to by goals from substitute Sean Murray and Joe Shaughnessy.

The achievement comes in Doolin's first season in charge and bridges a nine-year gap since Ireland last reached the finals.

The shock result was too much for the favourites to take as Inter Milan defender Cristiano Biraghi's last-minute dismissal was followed by another red card for Mario Sampirisi in stoppage-time.

Bray Wanderers striker Murphy grabbed the crucial breakthrough on 32 minutes by racing clear from a long ball before chipping the ball over goalkeeper Francesco Bardi.

Though the Italians mustered a couple of half-chances following the restart, Ireland sub Sean Murray extinguished their hopes on the hour with a superb second following a Kevin Knight cross.

The lead might have been reduced 10 minutes later when Aaron McCarey's crossbar was rattled by the Italians.

However, Shaughnessy killed the game off with a third Irish goal following a headed knock-down by Murphy.

Doolin spoke afterwards of his players' efforts.

"To finish the three games against top opposition at the elite phase as group winners without even conceding a goal is a fantastic feat for the players," he said.

"We had a game plan against Italy and it worked. Conor Murphy didn't get many chances in the matches against Poland and Ukraine, but when one came his way in the first half, he stuck it away brilliantly.

"I felt we were much the better side and, apart from a short period at the start when Italy created a couple of chances, we showed the more attacking threat of the sides."

He added: "Losing Eoin Wearen and Anthony O'Connor to suspension from the Ukraine game was a blow, but I felt the lads that came in were magnificent.

"Centre-back Joe Shaughnessy played his first game of the week and crowned a tremendous performance with our third goal near the end."

IRELAND -- McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Shaughnessy (Aberdeen), Egan (Sunderland), Williams (Aston Villa); Walker (Wrexham), O'Sullivan (Blackburn Rovers), Hendrick (Derby County), Carruthers (Aston Villa); Forde (Wolves), Murphy (Bray Wanderers). Subs: Knight (Leicester City) for Forde (h/t), Murray (Watford) for Walker (48), Lopez (Bohemians) for Carruthers (90).

Irish Independent