Ditched Wolves ace makes point on pitch
THE drama had already happened earlier in the day. This was a stroll for Ireland.
Giovanni Trapattoni had spoken with his pals in charge of the Pistoia Select to ensure there was no villain waiting in the wings to dash any of his players' Euro 2012 ambitions.
So, this was a very, very friendly training match. The odd cross word here and there, but Irish jerseys were requested at half-time and full-time by a collection of footballers from the Tuscany region who ply their trade in the nether regions of the Italian game. Trapattoni's men were responsible for any situation which might have led to a collision.
In truth, the second half featured the most interesting dynamic of an encounter which took place in the stunning setting that is the Stadio Marcello Melani, the home of local Serie D side Pistoiese.
Kevin Foley came on at the break, wearing the No 13 jersey on his unlucky day.
It was set to be the Wolves player's shirt for the finals, but, next week, it will be on the back of Paul McShane. The Wicklow lad wore 24 here, starting at right-full and then switching to centre-back for the second 45.
It's his aptitude for that position which ultimately cost Foley.
The latter was desperate to show the wider world that he wasn't dropped because of fitness concerns, and an energetic performance illustrated his recovery from a niggling hamstring issue.
With six minutes left, his team-mates allowed Foley to have a pop with a free-kick from just outside the box and he was denied by a combination of 'keeper and post.
Jon Walters tapped in the rebound, but the other green shirts rushed to celebrate with Foley -- the meaning of the gesture was clear.
Otherwise, this was an uneventful night. The orange-shirted Pistoia side did have some decent players in their ranks.
Striker Corrado Colombo played Serie A football earlier in his career, and was actually at Inter Milan when Robbie Keane was there.
He demonstrated his ability with a run and shot that came back off the post. But his team were already behind at that point, with his old pal Keane on target. He demonstrated his sharpness with a turn and shot that gave home 'keeper Francesco Gaffino absolutely no chance.
The Irish attack of Simon Cox and Keane -- who linked to such good effect last summer -- sensed vulnerability in the opposing defence and it was the former who doubled the lead. The West Brom man crept into space at the far post to collect a centre from the bustling Stephen Hunt and while Gaffino stopped the first attempt, he was powerless to prevent the rebound.
A third followed before the break, with Paul Green prominent in the build-up and Cox slipping through Keane for a tidy finish.
The skipper's night ended at the interval, along with the barely extended Richard Dunne and also James McClean, who wasted a good chance to get on the scoresheet but was otherwise impressive.
Trapattoni mixed things around for the second half.
Cox was deployed on the left side of midfield, with Shane Long and Walters resuming the partnership that gave Bosnia a host of problems last Saturday.
They were both off target in the period following the resumption, but their misses paled in comparison to Hunt, who should have finished from six yards when Long crossed.
At the other end, half-time sub David Forde was tested when McShane switched off and Mariano Taddeucci pounced only to fire directly at the Millwall 'keeper.
Long added the fourth midway through a second half which saw the pace drop off. He breached the offside trap and advanced with confidence before emphatically firing past reserve Tuscan 'keeper Tommaso Strambi, who plays his club football with Sportiva Borgo a Buggiano -- the Montecatini-based side whose ground Ireland are training at this week.
With 20 minutes remaining, Trapattoni withdrew Keith Andrews and Sean St Ledger, and introduced Darron Gibson and Stephen Ward.
He had also named Aiden McGeady and Kevin Doyle, but decided not to send them into the fray as the game petered towards a soft landing until Foley stepped up to a prove a point. For him, however, the Euros end here.
Pistoia Select -- Gaffino; De Stefano, Lotti, Tarli, Calanchi; Pieroni, Colombo, Cerri, Cortese, Taddeucci; Ceciarini,
Ireland -- Westwood (Forde 45); McShane, Dunne (Foley 45), St Ledger (Ward 71), Kelly; Hunt, Green, Andrews (Gibson 71), McClean (Long 45); Cox, Keane (Walters 45).