Fantastic four show they can light way forward as sun sets on careers of great Irish servants
A YEAR ago Ireland were preparing for the European Championships with Shane Long and James McCarthy on the bench and Seamus Coleman not even in the squad.
But last night we saw signs that this trio – and goalkeeper David Forde – can form a new core of the team as great servants like Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne near the end of their international careers.
Realistically this will probably be those players' last campaign, so it is time for the younger lads to stamp their authority on the jersey. Last night they performed on a big stage.
It may have been a friendly, but England are a top team with far more quality available to them, and Ireland showed that if you are well organised and well disciplined you can get a result.
It was nice to see the new generation really kicking on.
It was a positive, at times dogged, performance and the lads hung in there. After the heavy defeats against top opposition in recent times, this will come as a boost to the entire squad's confidence.
It shouldn't be forgotten that they delivered that display at Wembley, a top international venue against a top team and they can be really proud.
If it wasn't for a disappointing piece of bad defending that saw England equalise, we could have been celebrating a win.
Forde was superb in goal – he was my man of the match. He has made that position his own and by playing that well against England he has fully confirmed that the No1 shirt is his to keep.
The Millwall man was nervy in the Sweden and Austria games, but you don't really feel at home in international football until you have eight to 10 caps and he certainly looked the part last night.
Long took his goal brilliantly. He has had to bide his time for that No 9 jersey but he is growing into it more and more now. He is improving and he showed it by capitalising on a slightly hopeful ball from Coleman. Long made a difficult header look easy.
I mentioned yesterday that there would be a few scouts at Wembley and the main man they wanted to watch was McCarthy.
The Wigan midfielder has been a star performer all season and he is a Premier League-quality player. It will be interesting to see what his next move is.
He was up against Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick and, while he is a young man who has had a lot expected of him, he has really grown into the central midfield role alongside Glenn Whelan.
Long was a constant menace, while Coleman continued his Everton form and he can be one of our most effective attacking performers, delivering quality crosses like that.
On the whole, the boys defended well apart from the disappointment of the equalising goal. We had three defenders in the box, Sean St Ledger made his mistake and, typically of Lampard, he was there to pounce. We could have defended that better.
St Ledger was one of the picks of the European Championships team and has done well at international level. It was just a lapse, out of character, and he'll be disappointed.
However, the lads can take good confidence from the draw and I expect Giovanni Trapattoni to use the Georgia game to build on this towards the qualifier against the Faroes.
The players who missed out last night may have to wait until the trip to New York to play Spain to get a run. It can get frustrating for them, but the qualifier must take precedence. Georgia will be used to prepare for a game Ireland are expected to win, and experimentation will have to wait until that final game.
There was plenty to build on from last night's performance and, after the recent disasters against Spain, Italy and Germany, it was nice to see the young players take their chance and hold out for a result.
Although the players who served us so well are either gone or about to move on, there were reasons to be hopeful for the future at Wembley last night.
As draws in friendlies go, that was more memorable than most.