One for all and all for one: How 1-1 draw become Ireland’s default

One for all and all for one: How 1-1 draw become Ireland’s default
Matt Doherty rises to power home Ireland’s equaliser against Denmark on Monday night in the Euro qualifier at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Kieran Shannon says the Boys in Green have been reliant on headers and set pieces through the decades to achieve that most Irish of results: The 1-1 draw. Picture: Ray McManus.

Well, what else did you expect the score to be?

And when the boys in green would get their goal?

And how it would come about?

If there’s anything that has become as predictable over the last 30 years as the Irish national team drawing a major fixture one-all, it’s the timing and nature of the Irish goal.

While last Monday night in the Aviva was that rare breed of 1-1 home draw where you were immensely satisfied with the performance but extremely disappointed with the outcome, it was remarkable how representative of the general 1-1 Irish experience it was.

Of the four games Ireland played in this Euro 2020 qualifying group against fellow top-three opposition, three of them — 75% — ended up 1-1.

In all three games the score was 0-0 after 72 minutes.

Then, at some point over the following four minutes our opponents — Switzerland or Denmark — scored a goal, finished by a creative pass and a boot to the net. And then, in either the 85th or 86th minute, Ireland headed home an equaliser.

A couple of those Irish goals were undoubtedly well worked; James McClean curling in that ball against the Swiss for David McGoldrick to swing his head at, Enda Stevens whipping in a ball from that same wing on Monday night for Matt Doherty to bop into the Danish net.

But it’s amazing — and frankly arresting — how reliant Ireland have been on goals from headers and set pieces through the decades.

Our only goal against Georgia over 180 minutes in this campaign came from a Conor Hourihane free kick; as well as we played that evening — our second-best performance of the campaign — we didn’t carve out a goal from general play.

Contrast that to any respectable opposition we’ve played over the last 24 months. Since the first of five draws over that period with the Danes, a 0-0 draw in a first-leg World Cup qualifier in Copenhagen, Ireland have conceded 14 goals against what we’ll term top-three table opposition.

All but one of those goals were finished by the foot, and all but one of those from general, creative play. In contrast our only goal both finished by foot and created from general play was Sean Williams’ consolation goal when Wales were already 4-0 up on us in a Nations League tie.

Goals other teams get against us — some Bale individual brilliance, a necklace of Swiss one-touch passes outside and then inside the box, a look-up and chipped ball for Braithwaite to flick past the keeper — we don’t get against them.

It has for so long been like thus. Though the Martin O’Neill era featured some particularly memorable well-worked goals — McClean’s strikes in Vienna and Cardiff, Robbie Brady in Lille, Wes’s wonder strike against the Swedes, and Shane Long’s against the Germans— they stood out for the irirregularity as much as their significance. So many of our goals in his tenure were either in injury time or from set pieces or headers — often, all three.

Take one of the most unheralded but crucial results of O’Neill’s tenure, a 2-2 away draw in Serbia. Both Irish goals came from set pieces, the equaliser a Daryl Murphy header from a corner. Or our deflating 1-1 home draw with Scotland in that same campaign: Jon Walters scrambled home from a corner. Or Shane Long’s injury-time equaliser against Poland a month earlier — another 1-1 tie — from a corner.

It was worse under Trap. Again, excluding fodder teams (the bottom two in each group), we had 24 competitive games over three campaigns and managed to come up with just five goals that were both created from open play and finished by foot; the other 16 goals — 76% — were either headers or conjured from set pieces. In contrast, only 12% of our opponents’ goals came from penalties or set pieces.

Indeed, as we scoured YouTube yesterday for clips of every competitive goal scored and conceded by Ireland against non-fodder opposition, from the Aviva last Monday evening all the way back to Kevin Sheedy’s strike in Cagliari that set in motion all these one-alls, it is depressing how predictable the source of Irish goals tends to be.

A Damien Duff bit of trickery before belting to the net from outside the edge of the box in a home Euro qualifier against Russia in 2003 jumped out for how rare a goal like that has been; a Robbie Brady goal in the Bosnian fog this time four years ago would be about the only effort that approximated it.

Mattie Holland pile drivers, or Jason McAteer’s two goals against the Dutch over the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, or Mark Kennedy’s thunderbolt against Yugoslavia are goals that seem to have been consigned to the past as surely as they were so sweetly to the opponents’ nets.

Outside of some good old-fashioned pouncing from Robbie Keane and we’ve become totally reliant on nicking goals through deadballs.

That’s not romanticising the past. A cursory look at many of the one-ones we had under both Big Mick in his first stint in the job and indeed that of Big Jack illustrates that. A 1-1 home draw against Romania in 1997, a 1-1 home draw against England in 1990 — each headers from Cascarino.

Or at home against the North in 1995 or the Danes in 1993 — each nodders from Niall Quinn. Alan McLoughlin’s strike at Windsor Park stands out for its brilliance as well as its importance.

Since and including Cagliari, we make it 36 1-1 draws that Ireland have had in key competitive games. It is our default result and our default position, just like making the play-offs are.

As Miguel Delaney of the Independent in London has noted, this is now the ninth time Ireland have been involved in a qualification playoffs since that route was reintroduced before Euro 96 — three more than any other European nation.

While other countries, say Scotland, would envy such a record of consistent competitiveness, there’s an obvious reason we keep putting ourselves in such a position. We don’t go and beat the other top-three teams in our group 2-0; the only times we’ve managed to do that is against Croatia in 1998 and Hungary in ’89.

We rarely even beat them by a single goal; Germany in 2015 and Holland famously in 2001 are the only times we’ve managed to do that in this millennium.

Invariably we draw 1-1, geared to nick a goal from a set piece or a cross.

Mick McCarthy in 2019 has represented some progress from Martin O’Neill in 2018. But it seems Irish football will need to wait for Stephen Kenny to carve out an ice sculpture or at least a footed goal from general play to break us out of this Groundhog Day.

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