Tuesday 20 August 2019

'It's a bitter one because they are big, big players for us' - Tom Mohan laments late blows as Ireland march into last four

Ireland U-19 2-1 Czech Republic U-19

Ireland's Andy Lyons, Oisin McEntee, Kameron Ledwidge and scorer of the winner Barry Coffey celebrate their victory over Czech Republic at the U-19 European Championship. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Andy Lyons, Oisin McEntee, Kameron Ledwidge and scorer of the winner Barry Coffey celebrate their victory over Czech Republic at the U-19 European Championship. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

John Fallon

On a bumper day for Irish sport, the Republic of Ireland U-19s had to venture further afield than Shane Lowry to make the country proud.

Reaching the semi-final of an eight-nation tournament without their majority of regulars represents quite a feat for the squad and manager Tom Mohan.

Barry Coffey scores Ireland's second goal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Barry Coffey scores Ireland's second goal. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

That they did so by overcoming humid conditions, illness and a Czech Republic team that knocked England out of the qualifiers heightens the sense of achievement.

They face the ultimate test in Wednesday's tie with Portugal, especially without suspended Lee O'Connor and Jonathan Afolabi, but will relish trying to shackle the holders.

A raft of permutations followed Ireland into their final game. While a draw would have been enough, due to Norway's defeat to table-toppers France, they made sure.

Celtic cub Barry Coffey proved to be the match-winner with 10 minutes left, the substitute racing onto Joe Hodge's sublime pass to keep his cool and bury the winner.

Jonathan Afolabi battles for control of the ball against Czech Republic's Zbynek Konopásek. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Afolabi battles for control of the ball against Czech Republic's Zbynek Konopásek. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Vasil Kusej had just a minute earlier cancelled out Jonathan Afolabi's cracker of an opener on 35 minutes.

Brilliant

"There was no way we wanted to be coming home today,' said Mohan. "This has been a brilliant experience for both the players and staff and we wanted to extend our stay in Yerevan."

After absorbing some early Czech pressure, captain O'Connor fashioned Ireland's first attempt on goal, his 20-yard shot failing to trouble his Manchester United team-mate Matej Kovar in the Czech goal.

They should have grabbed the lead on 24 minutes when Afolabi picked out Brandon Kavanagh with a pinpoint left-wing cross, yet the Shamrock Rovers attacker couldn't keep his free header down just eight yards out.

It was looking good for Ireland, a trend they underlined by grabbing the opener.

The former Southampton striker, currently unattached, raced onto a long ball out of defence from Kameron Ledwidge to brush off the challenge of Czech captain David Heidenreich. His central-defensive partner David Zima was also outfoxed by the forward to cut inside to blast a low drive beneath the grasp of Kovar.

The Czechs pushed for a leveller early in the second half. It took a late intervention from Oisin McEntee to prevent Heidenreich scoring at the back post from a corner.

On 53 minutes, Maher was called into action to make his most vital intervention of the game. Caught out down their left side, Ireland required their goalkeeper to go full-stretch.

With news of France taking the lead against Norway filtering through, some breathing space emerged and Ireland almost needed it.

Vasil Kusej on the left wing was the Czech's biggest attacking threat and he ghosted in unmarked to back-heel a low cross from substitute Tomas Solil into the bottom corner.

Another substitute, Nenagh native Coffey, also got in on the act by restoring Ireland's lead down the other end.

Greek referee Anastasios Papapetrou displayed an impetuous streak in the final couple of minutes, harshly dishing out second bookings of the tournament to the duo.

"It's a bitter one because both Johnny and Lee are big, big players for us," lamented the manager.

"However, we won't allow it affect the joy of winning the game and reaching the semis."

Republic of IRELAND - B Maher; A Lyons, M McGuinness, O McEntee, K Ledwidge; L O'Connor, J Hodge; A Reghba (F Ebosele 90+4), B Kavanagh (B Coffey 56), T Wright (M Everitt 46); J Afolabi (C Grant 90+4).

CZECH REPUBLIC - M Kovar; V Mika (Z Konopasek 46), D Zima, D Heidenreich, M Fulaka (D Finek 18); D Machacek (L Husek 85), F Kaloc; V Kusej, T Zlatohlevk (T Solil 78), M Kohut; T Kepl (J Selnar 78).

Ref - A Papapetrou (Grc)

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