INTERNATIONAL football was back with a bang last week and it was a very important week for Irish sides in action.
The senior men’s side had the tough task of playing Switzerland (a side ranked 11th in the world and who had been in the Nations League semi-finals) at the Aviva Stadium and a late David McGoldrick gave Ireland a 1-1 draw.
That point could be massive come the end of the group stages and have a big say in whether we qualify for the Euros next year or not.
While it wasn’t exactly a vintage performance from Ireland, the attitude and application of the players can never be questioned and that is what got us the result in the end.
The goal we scored typified everything about what is good and fully expected of Irish players who take to the pitch to wear the green shirt. James McClean made a run back to win the ball from his Swiss counterpart and crossed the ball for McGoldrick to score a header he had no right to win. It salvaged a brilliant point for us.
We know we can play a lot better, but I have to say Mick McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for the side he picked, the formation and also the subs he made too. He knew we were going to struggle to control the game and the possession of the football because the Swiss were a very good technical side so he went a little more defensively than he probably would have liked to.
The three-man centre midfield flanked by James McClean and Callum Robinson gave us a good base to work from while providing a threat going forward to support McGoldrick up front.
McGoldrick is becoming a very important player for us as his link-up play is excellent. Although last Thursday’s goal was his first for his country, he has been excellent for us so far in these qualifiers.
When we went 1-0 down Mick McCarthy didn’t panic and make substitutions straight away for the sake of it. The Swiss goal was very well worked but before that had gone in, they didn’t have any real chances, so things were going alright for us.
With 10 minutes left he made a change and we went from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 with Scott Hogan coming on and adding some much-needed pace to our attacking play.
It paid dividends almost straight away with McGoldrick’s equaliser. We got the point in the end and it was probably a deserved point too. That result coupled with Denmark drawing away from home against Georgia on Sunday made it a great few days for Mick and his players and now we have a real chance of at least making the play-offs for the Euros next year.
We have a friendly game against Bulgaria tonight (Tuesday) and it’s a great opportunity for the management team to have a look at other players to see if they can force their way into his plans for the next set of qualifiers next month against Georgia and Switzerland, both of which are away from home.
It will probably be a completely different XI and it should see a couple of debutants trying to take their chance.
James Collins, Mark Travers and Jack Byrne should all play some part in the game along with players like John Egan, Ronan Curtis, Josh Cullen and Alan Browne and they will all want to show what they can do to lay down a marker for themselves.
The under-21s who are managed by the soon-to-be senior manager Stephen Kenny started their qualification campaign with a good 1-0 win at home to Armenia in Tallaght Stadium last Friday night.
Troy Parrott, who is being hailed as the next Robbie Keane, scored the winner and he looks like he is going to have an exciting career if he continues like this.
He played quite a bit for Spurs in pre-season and has been named in their Champions League squad too which is great too see.
The under-21s have some very exciting players at their disposal like Aaron Connolly (who made his Brighton senior debut last week), Adam Idah (Norwich City) Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool) and Lee O’Connor who has just moved from Manchester United to Celtic.
They have a great chance to make an impression on Stephen Kenny before he makes the step up to the senior squad next year. Those players should be in pole position for his squads and I know that he rates all those players very highly.
They could even make the breakthrough before then if they keep progressing, especially Parrott. They play Sweden tonight (Tuesday) away from home and if they can get a positive result there it will go a long way to helping them qualify for the Euros too.