By Liam Mackey
Five takeaways from Ireland 2 USA 1
From the Aviva wifi password for the night (‘#thanksJOSH’) and the cover of the match programme which portrayed him as a Roman centurion, to the warmth of the crowd during the extended pre-kick off ceremonials, it was clear that, after 17 years and 118 caps, John O’Shea has officially achieved the status of national treasure. As he has done so many times in the past, he led from the back – literally so, in this case, as the skipper for the night was the last man in green to cross the white line, accompanied by his son Alfie and daughter Ruby. And after just over half an hour at the heart of a three-man defence, he was the first to leave, the love pouring down from the stands as the Waterford man bade his final farewll to international football.
His goal when it came – a touch on a shot by Darragh Lenihan which was already on its way to the back of the net – might not have been up there with the worldies with which the Shamrock Rovers man lights up the domestic scene, but it was enough to see him become the first player still playing in the League of Ireland to score for his country since Ray Treacy got two against Turkey while himself a Hoop back in 1978. Burke certainly didn’t look out of place on his home international debut. He won a corner with his first effort on goal after running onto a Jon Walters flick-on and then returned the compliment with a nicely-cushioned header for his older striker partner to hit a dipping shot on the half volley which went just the wrong side of Bill Hamid’s goal. Coming up to half time, Burke shaped up to take a free-kick but his effort came straight back off the base of the wall and he suffered for his determination to make amends on the rebound, sustaining a whack to the ankle. But, just before he was called ashore, he found himself in the right place at the right time to draw Ireland level in the second half.
Seamus Coleman had spoken during the week about how the players had been working in training on showing for the ball, finding space and making better angles for passing. All of this rather than, as he put it, simply “getting rid”, as they had done repeatedly in Paris. The USA at a sun-splashed Aviva presented a rather less imposing challenge than did France at home, of course, but even if the Irish passing was not always as precise and penetrating as it might have been, at least it was refreshing to see players in green shirts attempting to get the ball down and play, with Declan Rice once again looking one of the most composed figures on the pitch.
We’re not saying it was directly attributable to the departure of John O’Shea, but the re-jigged Irish defence was certainly all at sea for the sucker punch Bobby Wood goal which gave the USA the lead right on the stroke of half-time. The ability to defend a set-piece should be a given for any Irish side but Matt Maiza rose highest at the back post and Wood was able to burst into the vacant space between Jeff Hendrick and James McClean to get the touch which carried the ball past Colin Doyle.
When it came to taking matters into his own hands, Callum O’Dowda’s balance and pace and fearless running at opponents were much appreciated by the home support, as was the collective effort which went into a strong finish as Ireland – with speedy sub Daryl Horgan well to the fore – pushed and pushed for a winner. And when it came, right on the 90th minute, it couldn’t have found a more deserving scorer, Alan Judge – who has suffered for so long on the sidelines through injury – emphatically thumping the night’s most decisive strike into the roof of the net to send the crowd home happy.