A trip to sunny Gibraltar and a home game in the Aviva Stadium against Georgia was exactly what Mick McCarthy would have wanted to start his qualification campaign for the 2020 European Championships. It was an early opportunity to get six points on the board and get a bit of momentum going. Momentum was something the new Republic of Ireland boss spoke about leading up to the games and as we all know momentum in football can sometimes be very hard to derail.
The game against Gibraltar on the Rock was a real throwback to far gone days of international football. The stadium was situated at the end of the runway for the main airport on the island, in fact during the game a plane could be seen landing behind the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph,s goal, now that is something you do not see very often. The game itself was awful and even Mick said it was horrible to watch and did not enjoy one moment of it. The game was destroyed by a wind that blew from one end of the pitch to the other, as you will always find around an airport. The artificial surface did not help either and it was nearly impossible for Ireland to get any sort of rhythm or pattern going. It was one of those games were you just wanted to win and get all three points and get out of town. Although the game was dominated by Mick McCarthys men Ireland goalkeeper Randolph had to pull off a world class save to deny Gibraltar captain Chipolina from giving the home side the lead, and it
d have been totally against the run of play. The game itself was won by a Jeff Hendrick goal after forty nine minutes and although the performance was terrible the victory was well deserved. The Irish fans were looking for a lift and they got it by taking home all three points but nobody inside the stadium was raving about the performance but we can put that down to circumstances, it must not be forgotten that Ireland went into this game without any game time under the new manager. As Ireland left the Rock on that Saturday night they left with the knowledge that they had all three points in the bag and it was mission accomplished.
If the game in Gibraltar was awful the match in the Aviva stadium three days later was magnificent. It was the homecoming of the new Republic of Ireland manager and the crowd gave him a great welcome home. The match itself was totally different to the game on the Rock and the Irish performance on the night was excellent. All eleven players put in a great shift and the style of play was top notch. It was very important that the team got the fans behind them and the way they played was a great success. The team passed the ball and found a team mate time after time, it was a style that had not been seen in the Aviva in a very long time. During the lead up the game it had been announced that John Walters was to retire from International football and he was a player who had a role that was very important in the big scheme of the things for the boys in green. John was the runner in the Martin O’Neill system and the player ran himself into the ground for the Irish cause. The new manager need not have worried because Sheffield United,s David McGoldrick was brilliant on the night in a similar role. The striker ran himself into the ground on the night and put in a man of the match performance. On the night, himself and Glen Whelan really stood out and Whelan broke up every attack Georgia mounted. The winning goal came from a magnificent free kick from Conor Hourihane in the thirty fourth minute, after a protest was held by Irish fans against former FAI CEO John Delaney with the throwing of several tennis balls onto the playing field. A protest that some numb nut came up with to cause problems, but the less said about it the better. Overall it was good night for Mick and his team and after two games they sit on top of the group, so it goes without saying that ” Mack is Back on Track “.