Wednesday 16 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Ireland are still lacking a Keane edge as limp display exposes striking problem'


David McGoldrick: Deflected shot. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
David McGoldrick: Deflected shot. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Robbie Keane posted an Instagram image of himself scoring in a training game on Sunday.

Some might have wondered whether the assistant manager might represent the best opportunity to get one, or several, in this one.

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Mick McCarthy said he'd take a goal off someone'e arse; he got what he wanted; the rest of us got a pain in the a**e watching them do it.

Ireland's most striking problem remains a striking problem. They don't score goals. Keane inevitably cast a long shadow over those who have attempted to follow so uncertainly in his wake.

The squad that assembled around him this weekend offered an illustrative sample; four strikers who had yet to score in their combined total of 26 appearances.

Shane Duffy, a talismanic figure now in either penalty box, has managed three in 28.

Keane, whose heaving quantity of goals bafflingly offended the snobbish senses of some critics, naturally stockpiled a fair portion against minnows such as these.

Indeed, despite their fledgling status as a football nation - Keane managed to rack up five of his 68 goals in the first two meetings of these sides in Martin O'Neill's first campaign in charge.

Keane's retirement, then, would always leave a void but by the final year of O'Neill's tenure, his absence represented a vast chasm that nobody seemed capable of filling.

Just four goals were scored in nine games last year; a chronic run of impotence reflecting a deepening inertia; the last four drew complete blanks. McCarthy's second coming has lifted spirits but hardly raised the stakes in the goalscoring department; three games, three goals; two from midfielders, one from - who else? - Duffy.

Togetherness and team spirit are one thing but, as McCarthy reminded us before the match, strikers are selfish buggers. Scoring goals, the numbers game, defines them.

Keane's primary job is to alleviate the burden on Ireland's goal-shy gang, rather than, however unintentionally, remind everyone what they have been missing.

McCarthy started three of them against Gibraltar; Seáni Maguire the luckless omission, particularly so given that he had started in the sham fixture on the Rock in March when few passed what was an unsuitable audition.

Predictably, the opening two chances fell to Duffy as Ireland's inevitable dominance was established from the opening minute.

This was just as impractical an audition as the away match in many ways; Duffy's wild 40-yard strike ballooning over the bar a symptom of Ireland playing lots of tidy football without penetrating.

Scott Hogan showed a nifty first touch and turn but not, alas, a finish to match. Of the trio, his runs were the most decisive; albeit too much so as he repeatedly ran offside.

When he didn't, Callum Robinson clipped a lovely cross that brushed his head; no other Irish players had deigned to gamble on the late run into the box, something the squad have been working on but maybe not for long enough.

Soon, they toiled; Conor Hourihane tried to replicate his stunning free-kick against Georgia; this time skimming his shot along the turf only for Duffy to block the effort, perhaps forgetting whose penalty box he was occupying.

He soon needed to be manning his own as Gibraltar worked a three-on-one overlap only for pitiful passing to let them down.

The irony was that when Ireland did score, while it was produced from a striker's boot, McGoldrick's flailing shot was sailing wide before ricocheting off Chipolina.

The listless crowd chuckle, whether in sympathy for either striker or defender, one cannot be sure. McCarthy, who had expressed some hope that a goal might come off someone's backside had, give or take a couple of inches, got his wish.

The visitors came closer to scoring a second in their own goal, too as the laborious effort limped towards the break.

As goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin received lengthy treatment after a clash with Hogan, the crowds drifted from their seats in search of something stronger.

The medics were clearly worried their netminder had forfeited some teeth; but it was Ireland who were toothless.

A beautiful curling left-footer from Robinson was a rare nod towards something wonderful.

One of the biggest cheers of the night came when a punter caught a wayward Irish shot high in the second tier of the stand.

Seáni Maguire came on for Hogan just when the latter came closest to nabbing his goal; Maguire's attempt to get his saw him clatter into Duffy, with both men on the floor and the ball no nearer the net.

McGoldrick hit the bar; so did even more of the punters.

Robbie Brady finally put to bed long after most people had begun to pine for the comforts of their own.

Irish Independent

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