Ireland's U21 stars come out to shine in audition

Ireland U21 0 Norway U21 0
If Martin O’Neill was seeking encouragement about the talent pool for the next campaign, the Ireland manager should have received some assurance from the display of the next generation.

The unexpected news of the Derryman signing a contract extension earlier in the day added a degree of motivation for the U21s to showcase their talent and a select few availed of the opportunity at Tallaght Stadium.

Following back-to-back victories over Kosovo and Azerbaijan, Ireland manager Noel King named an unchanged team, with West Ham United duo Declan Rice and Josh Cullen harnessing the midfield.

Rice may be the star turn at present for breaking into the Hammers side but his fellow Londoner Cullen, on loan at Bolton Wanderers, displayed his worth to the Irish cause by playing a captain’s part with a number of crucial interceptions.

On the stroke of half-time, with Morten Thorsby poised to pull the trigger from ten yards out, Cullen produced a perfectly-timed tackle to deny the Heerenveen midfielder.

Another Norwegian player, currently on loan with the Dutch club, posed the biggest threat to Ireland. Martin Odegaard hit the headlines almost three years ago when Real Madrid shelled out €4m for the 15-year-old and he’s earned nine full caps along the way.

Still only 18, he’s rejoined the Under-21s for this campaign and already provided a goal, albeit in their shock 3-2 defeat to Kosovo.

Last night, he was at the hub at the action but he met his match in the form of Ireland goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara.

The stopper spent Tuesday training with the senior squad and the Martin O’Neill and his goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh couldn’t be anything but impressed observing from the stand. Henrik Bjordal’s back-flick on 25 minutes gave Thorsby a clear sight on goal but his low shot was denied by the legs of O’Hara.

The 21-year-old again came to Ireland’s rescue in first-half stoppage time to block Odegaard’s shot. He cut inside only to see his crisp effort well saved.

It was a different story after the break as the Irish upped the tempo but wasted a few good chances.

QPR striker Reece Grego-Cox somehow stabbed wide with 10 minutes left after goalkeeper Sondre Rossbach parried Danny Kane’s shot straight into path.

His clubmate Ryan Manning had also came close to preserving Ireland’s 100 per cent record five minutes later when his free-kick forced Rossbach into a one-handed save.

Overall, claiming a point from a nation seeded above them in the group constituted a decent outcome for Ireland, who are next in action on Monday when Israel visit Tallaght Stadium.

IRELAND: K O’Hara (Manchester United); C Whelan (Liverpool), R Sweeney (Bristol Rovers), S Donnellan (Walsall), D Kane (Huddersfield Town); D Rice (West Ham), J Cullen (Bolton Wanderers); H Charsley (Everton), R Manning (QPR), R Curtis (Derry City); R Greco-Cox (QPR).

Sub: C Ronan (Wolves) for Manning (89 mins).

NORWAY: S Rossbach; A Hanche-Olsen, K Ajer, U Jenssen; J Ryerson, M Normann (D Torset-Johnsen 6, inj - S Svendsen 78), I Fossum; B Risa, M Thorsby, M Odegaard; H Bjordal.

Referee: L Godinho (POR)

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