Georgia 0 Ireland 9
Vera Pauw’s Ireland are one step closer to a World Cup play-off spot after cruising to victory against Georgia.
And although there was no new record to boast of, after the historic 11-0 in Dublin, they did equal the best ever haul away from home by an Irish side, matching the 2003 effort in Malta in days when their sport was neither popular nor profitable.
This was always an exercise in safe negotiation, rather than strict examination; Finland and Slovakia will provide that in September; crucially, this result confirmed destiny remains their own to pursue.
An accumulation of symmetrically timed goals in the opening quarter ensured there were no alarming hiccups to befall this side, as have occurred to so many predecessors, a 3-0 lead compiled in the sixth, 12th and 18th minutes ensuring none of Vera Pauw’s cast bore a furrowed brow.
A double from captain Katie McCabe, a dubious first international goal from veteran defender Niamh Fahey and a Megan Connolly finish gave Ireland a 4-0 interval cushion, the inevitable romp secured with blissful ease on a night devoid of the forecasted suffocating heat.
McCabe’s hat-trick, completed in the second-half, topped off the expected rout, with prolific defender Louise Quinn adding a double for good measure before Shels’ teenager Abbie Larkin scored what for her will prove to be a memorable debut goal in green.
Denise O’Sullivan dextrously completed the scoring with a deserved goal for a display of poise and panache in added time with a typically delightful finish.
Ireland were creating bother from the opening whistle, when O’Sullivan’s cross almost prompted the home full-back to bundle the ball beyond her line, but the home side created the first technical shot on target when Khatia Tchknonia shot apologetically at Courtney Brosnan after neat work from Teona Bakradze on the right.
That would be as good as it got; this Gori fortress not proving to be as formidable as the centuries-old encampment looming behind Brosnan’s goal.
Ireland’s early work stuttered but a goal would comfort them. Vera Pauw had warned us that a nervy finale would be mitigated by a strong start and that’s what they had earned by the sixth minute.
With Fahey finding freedom from a tricky midfield rutted with pockmarks, she set Payne roaming down the right and she in turn fed inside to Denise O’Sullivan with a nicely weighted delivery, taken in her stride.
As now it seems almost by instinct, she knew her captain would be roaring down the inside left channel.
Without having to change stride, the Cork woman tracked the run with a precise pass and, with one touch, the Irish skipper pinged a rasper to the top left corner of Tatia Gabunia’s rustling net.
Six minutes later, the lead was doubled, though the locals howled with disbelief when, after Louise Quinn nodded back Connolly’s left-sided corner from the left, Fahey seemed to guide the ball into the net with her left hand.
She swiftly withdrew the offending limb and after notching her first goal in 104 games, few would blame a lack of contrition from a former Gaelic Footballer used to scoring with a helping hand.
The symmetrical scoring rate continued, a third arriving after another six minutes, again from an inswinging corner. This time it was McCabe from the right, Connolly perhaps as surprised as anyone when nobody deigned to clear, allowing her steer into the by now petrified Gabunia’s perilous goal.
By now we were into the realms of mere accountancy. Ireland were so assured of their rhythm and space against a wholly game but woefully limited opponent.
Pauw had made three changes to the side that stunned runaway Group A leaders Sweden in Stockholm last time out.
Diane Caldwell returned to the left side of her defence, freeing up Connolly to take up her familiar midfield slot with Payne jostling Jamie Finn from the right wing-back position, Payne switching from her often uncomfortable lone striking role to a wider role.
West Ham-bound Jess Ziu, who impressed in the friendly win against the Philippines last weekend, took the place of Lucy Quinn in an obviously attack-minded 3-5-2 line-up, while Chloe Mustaki, deployed at left wing-back in Sweden, dropped out, with Amber Barrett leading the line.
Payne’s industry was much more suited to a role screaming up and down the tramlines, her ability to launch crosses on the run a key asset, as well as being involved in starter plays.
McCabe went close twice again, her best attempt a 38th minute howitzer that Gabunia acrobatically flung over her bar with what were becoming increasingly acrobatic attempts to keep the insistent green hordes at bay.
Sufficient unto the day thereof, perhaps, but this seemed like a well-connected outfit, with particular emphasis on the front two, Ziu and Barrett, linking well and joining up with the advancing O’Sullivan, while McCabe and Payne ravaged out wide, with Connolly and Littlejohn a quasi-defensive midfield base.
The back three were mostly confined to extended periods of concentration as their team dominated possession and territory.
Still, the second quarter was listless and Ireland’s play became sloppy, loose and casual, perhaps befitting the standard of the match but surely not their own.
Nonetheless, it is a relief not to sense a feeling of dread from an errant pass in midfield or a sudden loss of shape which, even in this campaign, has resulted in Irish deficiencies becoming exposed.
A fourth goal, McCabe’s second, came from a familiar route - a corner – but an unfamiliar routine, Connolly sliding the ball to the left edge of the area, and though slipping on the dewy turf, the Kilnamanagh woman’s loopy shot had enough to deceive the flailing Gabunia.
Some of the locals in the measly crowd numbering a few hundred had seen enough, that last kick of the half sending them to the exits and the hidden delights of Gori on a twilit Monday.
It had been 4-0 in Dublin, too, at the break and all that remained was to twiddle with the abacus. Quinn nodded home from Connolly’s 49th minute cross for the fifth as some locals returned. They did raise a cheer when McCabe lost possession but their team could not produce an impact and they resumed their dusty, forlorn seats.
Ireland introduced a trio of subs on the hour. One of them, new convert Lily Agg, almost collected her second goal in a week but was denied, ironically, by her errant handball offence.
Abbie Larkin also came in for Barrett, who would have been frustrated with her end product.
Ana Cheminova’s long-range pathfinder, clutched from the air by the otherwise unemployed Brosnan, produced a wild cheer from the patient hosts.
Quinn notched her second with 17 minutes left and seconds later, McCabe notched her hat-trick with a confident finish from close range before Quinn added her second.
Larkin then confirmed a personal milestone, the Shelbourne teenager nabbing her debut international goal. It has been quite the year for her.
The resilient Gabunia had defied Payne, Barrett, O’Sullivan and Payne, ensuring a much-strengthened Georgia, at least, avoided humiliation in double figures as in Dublin.
Ireland return to the capital in September knowing a second win against the Finnish will secure a World Cup play-off.
Georgia – T Gabunia; N Chkhartishvili, Tama Kvelidze, M Kalanadze, N Danelia; T Bakradze (I Khabudizania (HT), N Pasikashviliy; M Danelia (N Gujabidze 61), K Tchkonia capt, L Chichinadze (A Minadze 83); A Cheminava.
Republic of Ireland – C Brosnan; H Payne (L Quinn 60), N Fahey, L Quinn, D Caldwell, K McCabe; M Connolly, R Littlejohn (L Agg 61); J Ziu, D O’Sullivan, A Barrett (A Larkin 61).
Referee - Meliz Özçiğdem (Turkey)