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Ireland manage to overcome the system errors in Tbilisi


Shane Long surveys the scene among disconsolate Georgia players at the final whistle. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Shane Long surveys the scene among disconsolate Georgia players at the final whistle. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE


Aiden McGeady opens the scoring against Georgia

Aiden McGeady opens the scoring against Georgia



Shane Long surveys the scene among disconsolate Georgia players at the final whistle. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

A fixture shrouded in seemingly so much unnecessary indecision that it was at times often reflected on the field here in Tbilisi.

Ultimately, at least, it was definitively settled - ironically by a man whose own career has similarly been defined by similar traits of uncertainty.

Three stunning goals flowered wonderfully in a poor game that sadly reflected the arid, muggy landscape that surrounded it; Ireland, as usual, will not quibble.

A winning start, even if only delivered via the wondrous wand that is the Everton winger's left foot as the game veered towards crushingly disappointed stalemate, is all that matters to Ireland and their managerial combination.

For much of the night, though, it was an uncomfortable hot-house in which O'Neill's decision to unveil a new formation at times surprised his players as much as it did the bemused spectators.

And at times it seemed as if O'Neill's instructions to his players were unclear. Aptly enough, the one man on the field with which he has long-standing empathy, was the player that ultimately earned him the result.

Now it is O'Neill's challenge to infect that trust and understanding into the rest of these players; one assumes that it can only get better.

Despite Giovanni Trapattoni's steadfast adherence to rigidity, Martin O'Neill knows that much more variation is required for a group of predominantly average players; the manager effectively reiterated that notion this week.


This we all know so O'Neill has sought to discover things that he may not know. It seemed odd, though, that having never publicly trialled his three-man midfield, he chose to do so in his competitive bow.

Sometimes an international manager, as O'Neill may now be beginning to realise, has too much time to think. His next competitive match is a turkey shoot which will do little to satisfy any niggling uncertainty, presuming he has some, about the left flank of his defence.

The uncertainty swirling around the goalkeeping position also underlines this thesis.

Despite the fact that David Forde afterwards confirmed that O'Neill had assured him a few days ago that he would start this match, the whole goalkeeping farrago created unnecessary noise that could so easily have been avoided.

Robbie Keane's deployment as a lone, and often very lonely, striker ahead of the three men the manager had chosen to lock down the central contest for possession was designed with a conservative mindset.

Despite flashes, he wasn't comfortable in the role; it is one he may never play again if O'Neill persists with a lone ranger, albeit Gibraltar at home will alter his thinking.

Possession is only nine-tenths of the law they say; it had also caused nine-tenths of the self-enforced problems caused by Trapattoni's sides against limited opponents. Georgia fitted that description with consummate ease.

Ireland's other recidivist tendency has been to inflict self-harm though absent-mindedness in defence; Marc Wilson and Stephen Ward also fitted that portrayal accurately enough, too.

Nevertheless, Ireland began on the front foot and were finding space down the right against a left-back who sensed fear of exposure whenever Jon Walters or Seamus Coleman occupied his channel.

Although the wide men were getting joy early on, neither wing delivered a cross that asked searching questions of the rudimentary, rugged home defenders.

Keane almost produced one opportunity in the early exchanges but he lost a foot race with the goalkeeper Giorgi Loria; Georgia struggled to hold the ball, and as Ireland held it more, their struggles were compounded.

By the 15th minute, the pattern had been established; Ireland were passing accurately enough, but hardly with lightning pace, as they sought to drag the Georgians out of their uncertain shape.

Whenever the Georgians tried to introduce forward momentum, and Murtaz Daushvilli or Akaki Khubutia tried ever more ambitious passes, they seemed even more at risk at disrupting their own formation.

Stephen Quinn was the surprise inclusion, heightening this suspicion that the forfeit of Wes Hoolahan indicated that O'Neill was being overly security conscious but, in an attacking sense, this occasion was always going to be about Ireland's key performers producing big moments.

Aiden McGeady hasn't produced nearly enough of these in his lengthy international career and his return of three goals fitted the fitful nature of a player who, for every decent passage of play he inspires, falters with at least three others in the mean time.

It was his ball that had released Keane; his next involvement would be clinical. It stemmed from a long ball, of which there was a familiar dosage; Walters sturdily held off his man, Keane dummied intelligently, James McCarthy, albeit playing uncomfortably high up the pitch for him, didn't panic as he sourced McGeady.

The intuition of the Scots-born Everton duo produced a certainty of finish that should have offered comfort to Ireland; instead, if anything, they became more inhibited.

McGeady was the chief culprit as his star waned exponentially; admittedly double-teamed, he joined with his team-mates in failing to provide the force of personality to impose himself on the game.

McCarthy remained aloof from the midfield three at times and seemed uncertain as to his role; Keane was too often isolated and Ireland lacked the guile to serve him.

Georgia don't score many goals but they were gifted the opportunity to provide a spectacular; Ward backed off and Tomike Oriashvilli wowed the home hordes with a simply stunning strike.

It was a game in which the quality of the goals were vastly out of context with the general tenor of an often moribund affair.

At times in the second-half, it seemed better for Ireland not to have the ball but, with Keane often having to drop deep to help his midfield, it seemed strange that Hoolahan was not drafted in to make the ball stick.

The game was being increasingly stretched but not in a positive way; Ireland were content to go longer and longer and, as Glenn Whelan more than once turned backwards on the half-way line, it seemed as if Ireland were operating a one-man midfield, not a three-man one.

Keane's awful miscue summed up the inadequacies of a performance which seemed certain to drift aimlessly into a score draw until McGeady, emerging from the shell into which he had retreated, conjured up some wonderful artistry on the edge of the box.

McGeady's strike was a superior riposte to those who suggest that his has been an unfulfilled career; the challenge for him in this campaign is to assert himself as the key attacking figure for this Irish side.

His manager may also borrow from this tenet.

After all, this is is a results business and this particular result will stiffen their resolve for the tricky trips to follow.

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