Friendly Report: Republic of Ireland under-21s 1 - 0 Republic of Ireland AmateurWed, Feb 06 2019
Dave Donnelly reports from Whitehall Stadium
Stephen Kenny’s first outing as Republic of Ireland under-21s boss went off without a hitch as Brandon Kavanagh’s first-half goal saw off a competitive Ireland amateur side.
The Shamrock Rovers playmaker turned home a cross from the excellent Neil Farrugia ten minutes before the break and, though the 21s had chances to add to the score, it proved decisive.
Kenny sent out his side in a fluid 4-1-4-1 formation with St. Patrick’s Athletic’s Jamie Lennon at the base of midfield with recent Cardiff City loan recruit Aaron Bolger just in front.
There were signs of how the former Dundalk boss would like his side to play with full-backs Trevor Clarke and Andy Lyons given full licence to bomb forward and Lennon holding forth at the back.
Clarke gave a glimpse of what Shamrock Rovers fans have been missing for the past ten months with one of those driving runs within the first five minutes.
The former Middlesbrough wideman drilled in a low cross towards Aaron Drinan, which the Ipswich Town player should have done more to steer on target.
That was the first clear chance of a tentative opening from both sides in what turned out to be the calm before the storm – literally, not figurately – that saw neither keeper unduly worried.
Stephen McGann drove a shot high over the bar within the first minute for the amateurs, who had marginally the better of the opening 15 minutes.
Drinan had a more difficult chance shortly afterwards as Waterford’s Zack Elbouzedi – operating on the right of a midfield four – crossed, but the former Cork City man headed well wide.
Kavanagh forced a routine save from Rockmount keeper Brendan O’Connell following a good run infield, and Drinan saw a shot deflected wide from the recycled ball.
Shane Stritch of Bluebell looked the amateurs’ most likely threat throughout, and he did well to win a free kick on the edge of the box that Liam Brady, brother of senior international Robbie, sent over.
The under-21s began to assert themselves on the game and bossed possession but struggled to break down Gerry Davis’ well-drilled side.
So it will have been frustrating for Davis to see the game’s only goal come from one of his side’s few first-half chances.
The tricky Stritch scuffed a shot wide after cutting infield and, within seconds, Kearns had launched a counter that ended with Farrugia teeing up Kavanagh for a tap-in.
Farrugia was at the heart of the action once more as he exchanged passes with Kavanagh, but the ball just wouldn’t sit down for him to poke home a second.
The amateurs didn’t take their concession lying down, however, and Sheriff’s Paul Murphy let rip with a furious volley from 30 yards that required an acrobatic save from Kearns.
The rain that had started in a drizzle became torrential by the break, and it disrupted both sides’ play early in the second half, while a raft of changes did likewise.
New Waterford recruit Elbouzedi became increasingly influential and sub Robbie McCourt should have turned his wonderful slide-rule pass into a second, but the Bohs man struck the post.
Kavanagh dawdled when the rebound was begging to be turned home, and substitute Michael O’Connor – who recently declared his willingness to switch to Northern Ireland – hit the side net.
Elbouzedi pulled the strings once more to set up McCourt shortly after, cutting the ball back for the ex-West Brom man to rattle a shot just past the post from 25 yards.
Trim Celtic’s Conor Carney had a trio of late chances for the amateurs, the best of which was a rasping shot from distance that stung Kearns’ palms.
It wasn’t to be for the amateur side, however, and Kenny will have been pleased in particular by the performances of Lennon, Farrugia and Elbouzedi on his first outing as coach.
Republic of Ireland under-21: Conor Kearns; Andy Lyons, Conor McCarthy, Liam Scales (Sam Todd 90+2), Trevor Clarke (Robbie McCourt 55); Jamie Lennon, Aaron Bolger (Jack Keaney 78), Zack Elbouzedi (Will Fitzgerald 86), Neil Farrugia (Karl O’Sullivan 90+2), Brandon Kavanagh (Daniel Mandroiu 78); Aaron Drinan.
Subs not used: Ross Treacy (gk).
Booked: Trevor Clarke (44), Michael O’Connor (61).
Republic of Ireland Amateur: Brendan O’Connell (Gary Neville 62); Paul Murphy (Shane Guerins 60), Gary Delaney, Stephen Kelly (Conor Tourish 72), Chris McCarthy; Thomas Hyland, Liam Brady (Craig Walsh 51), Stephen McGann (Alan McGreal 46), Jordan Buckley (Niall Brennan 69), Eoin Hayes (Colm Carney 62); Shane Stritch (Enda Curran 69).
Subs not used: None.
Booked: Gary Delaney (50).
Attendance: 300 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Neil Farrugia (Republic of Ireland under-21s).
Even men with steel hearts love to see a fox on the pitch. pic.twitter.com/P7h2Nv8ela— Dave Donnelly (@YeSecondPost) February 6, 2019