Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fergie's shining stars put Ireland's finest in the shade

Airtricity XI 1
Man United 7

Manchester United's Michael Owen shoots to score his side's second goal despite the attempts of Airtricity League XI's Ken Oman, left, and Gavin Peers. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Manchester United's Michael Owen shoots to score his side's second goal despite the attempts of Airtricity League XI's Ken Oman, left, and Gavin Peers. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

As housewarmings go, this was a bit like visiting the most gracious hosts imaginable before realising they poured coffee instead of gravy all over the Sunday roast.

The glittering hosts embarrassed the locals. Dave Mulcahy scored a late consolation amid the ignorance of a Mexican Wave, spawning Ole, Ole's that hinted at respect, but veered towards denigration.

But then most of the locals have foreign tastes, so few punters would have muttered darkly as they poured on to the streets. Rather than an exercise in realistic competition, this was a lap of honour by a world-class team.

Allegedly paid over a million smackers for the privilege, perhaps United would have deemed it impolite not to press home their obvious sporting advantage. In the end, they thrilled their avid Irish base and even Wayne Rooney smiled -- once.

Fittingly, at least for the majority in the ridiculously exalted official attendance of 49,861, the first touch befell Rooney, seemingly undeterred by the stadium's smoking ban.

Proud captain for the evening, John O'Shea delivered the first meaningful pass in the stadium, a pivotal moment in Irish football history for the son of Waterford and, aside from history, a crucial first stage in his rehabilitation for both club and country following the disturbing injury which befell him after last year's World Cup exit to France.


It was a day of new beginnings, with today's predicted unveiling of mobile phone provider '3' in this same stadium ushering in the latest multi-million euro successor as sponsors of Irish soccer, succeeding Eircom's 11-year, 100-game patronage.

Still, the odd sight of a large majority of vacant corporate boxes indicates the difficulties that will remain away from the green sward in the months and years ahead.

As ever in Irish society, it was the 'little' people who were forced to pay through the nose for the extravagant follies of others, with the extravagantly priced tickets clearly forcing a large number of sports adherents to remain firmly deposited on their couches.

Giovanni Trapattoni was in attendance last night, ostensibly to add weight to today's announcement, as he is distinctly clear in his dismissal of the perceived lightweight abilities of domestic players to compete in the international sphere.

For him, O'Shea's fitness and well-being, and that of Darron Gibson, would have been the paramount priorities of last night's exercise, especially as the hosts produced a fatal faux pas in the game's opening moments to frank all prescient concerns about their unsuitability for such an occasion.

The titular footballing host of this grand occasion, Damien Richardson, had expressed a dim view that his domestic allsorts would attempt an exercise in damage limitation, viewing such a defensive modus operandi as an expression of inferiority.

They couldn't even get near the driver's seat. A horrendous 13th minute error undid any pretensions the hosts had of being allowed to settle into the match at anything approaching a competitive level.

Antonio Valencia created the first opening of the evening, dinking in a delicious cross that freed the industrious Ji-Sung Park amidst an ocean of green; he headed meekly and Liverpool fan Gary Rogers gleefully scooped up the offering.

Rooney, at one-time a potential recruit to Trapattoni's current cause during the manic days of his spectacularly youthful breakthrough in the game, had shot wide before his side's 13th minute breakthrough.

Clearly, his accuracy was not as proficient as that demonstrated against a refuse bin during his weekend entertaining. Unlike his gaudy Manchester nightclub of choice, there was no quick panacea here for the goalless streak that cursed him during the World Cup.

Gavin Peers was guilty of the venue's first howler; after collecting a stray cross despite Rogers' close presence behind him, the Sligo man advanced cautiously, before vaulting ambition saw him crack a clearance off Park's left leg.

Rogers could only watch in despair as the ball arrowed past him. Peers' peers were not amused. To a Korean, then, the honour of becoming the re-constituted venue's first goalscorer.

A Scouser tacked on a second 12 minutes later to negate the unlikely chance of an incredible upset; Michael Owen's breathless control and neat lobbed finish with his right foot, despite adhesive attention from two defenders, inspiring awe in those lucky enough to witness it at first-hand.

Injured in last season's League Cup final, the erstwhile English international still found it difficult to dovetail with the notoriously self-consumed figure of Rooney up top.

Yet should his fragile hamstrings allow, Owen's presence this season may serve to ease the burden on his younger colleague, for whom the World Cup demonstrated the difficulty Rooney has in absorbing unwieldy pressure.

The hosts predominantly housed Bohemians, an ironic reflection of their inability to truly test their opponents; having lost pitifully to a non-descript Welsh acronym, Ireland's champions should have been attempting Champions League qualification this week.

Creditably, they held their heads high, chiefly Bohemians' captain Paul Keegan, whose crunching tackle on Rooney confirmed the intention of Alex Ferguson to limit his star's involvement to the bare minimum.

Ryan Guy added some American dash to the occasion, his trademark throw-in tumble even producing a smile from the relaxed United manager, while the languid element Joseph Ndo engaged some whooping from the domestic faithful with a cheeky nutmeg on Jonny Evans.

Bohs striker Madden, eagerly eyed by a gaggle of scouts from Celtic, Birmingham and Newcastle, ploughed a lone furrow up front and the visiting notebooks, sadly, would have remained mostly blank.

United hauled Owen off as well as Rooney at tea-time, allowing Ferguson's new starlet, Javier Hernandez, to demonstrate after just 94 seconds of his first appearance on European soil just why he was so coveted.

The Mexican star, showing the gift for timing and speed that surfaced in South Africa, slammed home a low cross from Valencia with almost dispassionate nonchalance for United's third.

On the hour, Gibson, a likely starter next week here against Argentina in Glenn Whelan's absence, brought a smile to Trapattoni's face as he set up Valencia for the fourth with a delicious slide rule pass.

Park then curled in a fifth, Evans nodded in a sixth, Nani rolling a penalty to the net as the inevitable rout ensued, with Nani rattling a shot that tested the rigidity of the new crossbar late on.

Yet even United's crusade for honours this season are dwarfed by the pregnant expectations of so many Irish football fans cast their eyes hopefully into the future.

United have their theatre of dreams. Now Irish football has theirs.

Airtricity League XI -- G Rogers (G Doherty 70); B Shelley, K Oman, G Peers (C Kenna 54 mins), C Powell; S Williams (R Ryan 64), J Ndo (G O'Brien 70), P Keegan, K Brennan (A Kirby HT); R Guy (D Mulcahy 70), P Madden (K Sheppard 64).

Manchester United --T Kuszczak (B Amos 64); J O'Shea, C Smalling, J Evans; A Valencia, D Gibson, M Carrick (D Fletcher 37), J-S Park (Nani 64); W Rooney (D Berbatov HT), M Owen (J Hernandez HT).

Ref -- A Kelly.

Irish Independent

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