Friday 20 September 2019

Ireland get full points but few marks for its execution

Ireland 2-0 Montenegro

Katie McCabe slots home Ireland’s second goal during their victory. Photo: Sportsfile
Katie McCabe slots home Ireland’s second goal during their victory. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ireland's women want to win the country's hearts and minds. but for now. winning matches is more important.

They were never going to lose this one and, right now, it may not be that important that they didn't win it with any style. That may come, presuming they can settle on a new manager before a trickier Ukraine outfit visit next month.

Having stood still for so long, maybe they need to walk before they can run.

The clouds that obscured the Dublin mountains for the hours before kick-off cast a shadow over a familiar problem for any minority sport in this country seeking wider recognition.

For, with the game already televised as part of RTE's renewed commitment to the womens' game after a largely unheralded period with Eir Sport, how difficult would it be to persuade families to swap comfy (and dry) plasma living for damp parklife?

To get 3,423 was a decent effort; as so many other sports have discovered, trying to bridge generations of neglect and disinterest cannot be achieved with the wave of a conjurer's wand.

Ireland's Katie McCabe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Katie McCabe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal. Photo: Sportsfile

Montenegro kicked off and it would be only patronising to say other than that it was mostly downhill from there; they are, after all, the bottom feeders in this qualification group and had been pummelled 10-0 by the Germans last weekend.

Louise Quinn's crunching challenge on the diminutive Nadja Stanovic indicated intent; the visitor was left counting her ribs as she hobbled uncertainly away.

Ireland have established defensive resilience of late but perhaps relied upon it too much in recent times.

Hence, Tom O'Connor has sought to develop a more attacking strain to his side's play; he still hopes to get the manager's gig on a full-time basis and he would have hoped this night might prove a fruitful audition.

Ireland's Heather Payne in action against Darija Djukic of Montenegro. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Heather Payne in action against Darija Djukic of Montenegro. Photo: Sportsfile

With senior men's manager Mick McCarthy in attendance, alongside FAI interim chief Noel Mooney, the family of football congregated expectantly.

In truth, the entertainment was fitful. The early highlights were some wondrous skills from Arsenal star Katie McCabe, the local displaying a fleet of drag-backs and roll-overs as she would in shool-days of yore.

She was also crunched by a defender for her troubles. Having done that damage on the left wing, she moved centrally and, together with Denise O'Sullivan, did most of the probing and prodding that was possible against a ten-man defence.

Dynamic

Tyler Toland was a dynamic presence in midfield, marshalling any limited threat; at one stage, Montenegro had a free-kick on halfway which they passed back to the keeper.

By this stage, Ireland led through a crashing 25-yard shot from Toland, the Donegal woman whose confidence and assuredness is destined to gather pace as she prepares to kick off her career in the Women's Super League with Manchester City this weekend.

Mostly, they found it difficult to find a way through; their intricate passing too often fell down and, with the game congested in one half of the field for the most part, space was at a premium.

Niamh Fahey did have a header on target from a McCabe corner but there was precious little else to worry Ivana Cabarkapa in goal.

By far the most entertaining figure was the visiting coach, Mirko Maric, wearing a tracksuit from somewhere in the 1980s and maintaining an excitable monologue of maniacal motivation from the sideline.

It couldn't possibly work as his team were pitifully inadequate.

Which made Ireland's impotence all the more frustrating.

After the break, Toland failed to do from half the distance what she had done so spectacularly in the first-half; it was an unforgivable miss after more impressive intricacy from O'Sullivan.

O'Connor's constant exhortations for his side to move the ball quickly were seemingly absorbed, as the pace at least quickened from the often funereal first-half fare. Chances were still rare; Quinn had another header on target from a McCabe set-piece.

In the 69th minute, Ireland doubled their lead when McCabe expertly fired a penalty beyond Cabarkapa after Jadranka Pavicevic had inexplicably handled under pressure from the omnipresent O'Sullivan.

We expected the floodgates to open but in fact the visiting captain, Sladjana Bulatovic, by far their most accomplished player, stung Marie Houlihan's under-worked hands.

Ireland created a few scrambles late on but the good stuff was undone by poor errors.

They clearly will have wanted more than such a minimal victory, but three points is all they really needed.

Republic of IRELAND - M Hourihan, Scott, C O'Riordan (H Payne HT), D Caldwell (C Walsh 77), L Quinn, J Gargan, N Fahey (M Connolly 81), T Toland, K McCabe, D O'Sullivan, R Jarrett.

Montenegro - I Cabarkapa; A Popovic, M Saranovic, T Djurkovic, J Pavicevic, S Bulatovic, Djukic, D Ramcilovic, J Djokovic (J Karlicic 64), A Kuc (T Bojat 82), N Stanovic (J Vujadinovic 90).

Ref - C Campos (Portugal).

Irish Independent

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