Aiden McGeady magic gets sloppy Ireland out of jail
Aiden McGeady fired the Republic of Ireland to a priceless 2-1 Euro 2016 victory in Georgia as he chose the perfect moment to produce his best form in manager Martin O'Neill's first competitive game.
The Everton winger had given the Republic a 24th-minute lead with the fourth goal of his senior international career on his 70th appearance, but the advantage was short-lived as Tornike Okriashvili levelled with 14 minutes with a superb strike.
But just as it looked as though O'Neill would have to settled for a point, McGeady curled home a 90th-minute winner to give his side the start to the campaign they craved.
Ireland lined up with Aiden McGeady on the left and Walters on the right in the absence of injured winger James McClean, and the Stoke man made an immediate impact.
It was he who ran on to skipper Robbie Keane's pass to deliver a teasing first-minute cross which Kverkvelia had to turn away for a corner at full stretch as the green shirts arrived in force.
The visitors were passing the ball confidently and, a handful of carelessly misplaced passes aside, enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges.
However, Georgia striker Nikoloz Gelashvili, who had been asked to lead the line unassisted, was working hard to put the Irish rearguard under pressure to give his defenders some respite.
McGeady showed wing-back Ucha Lobzhanidze a clean pair of heels with a clever 19th-minute turn, but his cross was headed away by Guram Kashia before Keane could pounce.
The Georgians went close twice within seconds as they mounted their first real threat with Gelashvili seeing a rasping drive turned away by Forde before Lobzhanidze only just failed to connect with Kverkvelia's flick-on.
But they fell behind with 24 minutes gone when Ireland broke at pace and James McCarthy slid McGeady in to beat keeper Giorgi Loria with aplomb.
O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane both leapt from the bench in celebration as the ball hit the back of the net, hoping their side was on the road to a sixth successive victory over the Georgians.
Ketsbaia's men redoubled their efforts in the immediate aftermath of McGeady's intervention to put the Republic under concerted pressure for the first time, although with little end-product.
But Forde was sent diving anxiously to his left 11 minutes before the break when skipper Jaba Kankava cut inside and dispatched a right-foot shot which was deflected just wide of the far post.
Ireland's respite was only temporary, however, as Georgia levelled with seven minutes of the half remaining when Okriashvili evaded John O'Shea and Stephen Ward on the right and sent a dipping shot over Forde.
The Irish found themselves under intense pressure as time ran down and O'Neill would have been the happier of the two managers to hear the half-time whistle.
Georgia keeper Lori did not return for the second half and was replaced by Roin Kvashvadze in the only change made by either manager.
The home side resumed where they had left off with Okriashvili embarking on a dangerous 49th-minute run which was eventually snuffed out by a combination of O'Shea and Marc Wilson before he could pull the trigger.
But as the Georgians committed men to attack, they left space for McGeady to exploit, and he did so to good effect seconds later, although without the necessary support to make anything of it.
However, the momentum was very much with Georgia and the Ireland goal came under threat twice within seconds.
Robbie Keane was in the right place at the right time to clear Okriashvili's volley after a 52nd-minute corner had been cleared to him, and Forde claimed Jano Ananidze's driven low cross with Gelashvili awaiting its arrival.
But McGeady came within inches of restoring the Republic's lead when he curled the ball just wide of Kvashvadze's left post after a well-worked 57th-minute free-kick.
The Everton midfielder was enjoying a productive evening and after Keane had uncharacteristically scuffed a volley harmlessly wide, called upon Kvashvadze once again seven minutes later with a swinging effort.
But for all the visitors were creating chances, their hosts were enjoying the better of the game as it entered the final 20 minutes with three points still very much up for grabs.
That said, McGeady might have restored Ireland's lead with 15 minutes remaining when he got in once again on the edge of the penalty area, but he slashed wildly at the ball and screwed it wide.
O'Neill responded by replacing Quinn and Keane with winger Robbie Brady and striker Shane Long as he looked to add firepower ahead of a tense conclusion.
But it was McGeady who delivered once again at the death when he accepted Seamus Coleman's pass and stepped outside his marker to curl a precious winner past Kvashvadze.
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.