After 89 minutes of last night’s game, my thoughts were drawn to a comment Martin O’Neill made a month ago in Mullingar.
Speaking about the upcoming campaign, O’Neill said: “At times there will be some rubbish when we have to grind out a result and it won’t be pretty on the eye. And then there will be times when we will do something really good.”
Within 30 seconds of those words coming into my mind, we saw something that was better that good. We saw something brilliant. The way Aiden McGeady controlled Seamus Coleman’s cross, before he delivered an absolutely world class strike, was indicative of the confidence he now has.
For so long - too long - he was a player who frustrated me because I knew how much ability he had and knew he wasn’t producing it in the games that mattered. I’ve suffered at his expense trying to mark him, both in training and in games, guessing which direction he will head off in, never knowing whether he will go direct down the touchline or if he will cut inside.
He has had so much talent since he was a teenager but has not delivered on it often enough. Last night was different, though. Last night, he did something that only the best can do. In a game that was drifting towards a draw, a game where we were watching ‘some rubbish’, he won the match on his own.
He’s our star man now. And from here on in, he has to be kept on the pitch at all costs. No longer can he be the player who is substituted, a practice which, for me, has damaged his confidence.
You could even see it last night. Watch the video. On 76 minutes, when Robbie Brady and Shane Long were about to be introduced, the camera scans across the pitch and focuses on McGeady’s face.
The anxiety was evident. “Is my time up?” he appeared to be asking himself.
It wasn’t. O’Neill earned his corn. Top managers get big decisions right. The temptation may have been to call McGeady ashore but instead he stuck by him. By trusting him to finish off the job, O’Neill effectively was telling Aiden that he believes in him, that he felt he could be the matchwinner.
And the investment of faith was dramatically repaid.
They’ll benefit from this, now. I know it is early days, and I know there will be bigger games to come, but these are the sort of victories that can set the tone for a campaign. Confidence grows, momentum builds and in the back of every Irish player’s mind, there will be the knowledge that Scotland and Poland will have to go to Tbilisi and one, or maybe both of them, will drop points there.
We, meanwhile, have Gibraltar next and it is impossible to see how we will not be sitting on six points after two games. France, and the Euro 2016 finals, no longer appears to be that far away.
It’s funny how one moment in a game can alter our perceptions so dramatically because until that second goal went in, I could not help thinking that we had missed an opportunity, that we had not shown enough ambition, that we offered them too much respect.
O’Neill’s tactics were predictable. Going 4-5-1 was the right thing to do. I was caught by surprise to some degree that Stephen Quinn got the nod ahead of Darron Gibson and that David Forde was preferred to Shay Given but on the whole, there was little room for argument. It was the right formation to go with.
Was Forde the right choice to make? On Saturday I wrote how I would have preferred to see Shay in there but after last night’s game, it is clear that Forde is going to be the number one keeper for the campaign. Martin tends to be loyal. When his mind is made up, he rarely changes it.
Nor should he. Forde played well. I noticed on social media how many people were criticising him for Tornike Okriashvili’s goal. But I studied the replays closely and exonerate him from any blame.
It was simply a wondergoal and owes so much to the excellence of Okriashvili’s technique. When you look at the replay, you will see the way he opens up his foot to strike the ball with his instep. By striking the middle of the ball, Okriashvili was able to put top-spin on the shot which resulted in the ball dipping alarmingly at the last minute. At Burnley, our younger players are trying to master this technique because our keepers tell them that it is the one shot that is impossible to save, because it goes too high initially, and then dips.
What Okriashvili did well was to catch Forde unawares by shooting so early, not giving the Ireland keeper time to adjust his feet. It was simply a brilliant goal. And it changed the game.
You can talk forever and a day about how tactics effect matches. But nothing has as big an impact on any game as a goal. McGeady’s first one last night allowed Ireland to have a grip on proceedings. Georgia’s equaliser knocked us for six.
It took us until the 90th minute before we recovered. It took a moment of magic to rescue us. Thankfully we have a player now who can produce that magic. This guy is set to become the star of this team.